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Congress Cuts Portion of Pell’s Budget Pie

Congress Cuts Portion of Pell’s Budget Pie
By Charles Dervarics

Congress continues to shift gears on legislation that may determine whether the maximum Pell Grant will increase this year.

The latest evidence is in a new House/Senate budget agreement that largely reflects the White House plan, which calls for a program increase only to cover current shortfalls in the program. Gone from the final agreement is a plan the Senate adopted last month earmarking $3.2 billion more for the student aid grant program. Among other goals, this funding would have increased the maximum grant by $450 next year.

Senate Republicans agreed to the switch in part to produce a final agreement palatable to the more conservative House, which wants to hold the line on Pell spending. President Bush also has proposed only enough new money to help cover current shortfalls in the program caused by heavier than anticipated student demand.

The current Pell maximum grant is $4,050.

Many Democrats criticized the final 2004 budget package, which sets general spending targets in budget categories. The agreement slashes earlier Senate education requests by $20 billion, in part to pay for costly tax cuts, says Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Kennedy had authored the earlier amendment for increased Pell funding.

“The impact on education is devastating,” he says.

Due to dissension in the GOP ranks, the final budget lacks consensus on the scope of possible tax cuts. House Republicans favor $550 billion, while Senate Republicans will go no further than $350 billion. The issue will be left for further debate later this year.

Higher education leaders say they will continue to press for a Pell Grant increase when lawmakers write program-by-program spending bills later this year.

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