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Stimulus: Congress To Wrangle Over Senate Education Cuts

The U.S. Senate compromise bill cut $3.5 billion for work on higher education facilities, according to a breakdown of the Senate compromise stimulus bill released late Friday evening by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

The plan, according to Nelson’s office, also eliminates all $16 billion from the original bill for K-12 school construction, trims more than $1 billion from Head Start programs for youngsters, and cuts $40 billion from a $79 billion proposal to help states pay education costs while trying to balance their own budgets.

“This bipartisan agreement delivers the help millions of Americans need in this time of economic turmoil,” said Senator Nelson. “It fuels two powerful engines: major tax cuts for the middle class, and targeted investments in American infrastructure and job growth. It also pares back $110 billion of spending that didn’t belong in the bill. We’ve trimmed the fat, fried the bacon, and milked the sacred cows. What remains will fund education, an energy Smart Grid, tax credits for homebuyers and other critical infrastructure.”

Under the Senate stimulus proposal, education would receive only about half of what was intended under the House-approved bill.

While the Senate is expected to narrowly approve its version of the economic stimulus package on Tuesday, lawmakers from the House and Senate will face difficult negotiations over spending for tax cuts, education and aid for local governments.

The $827 billion measure is on track to pass the Senate, despite stiff opposition from the GOP and disappointment among Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who labeled it imperfect.

Obama and Senate Republicans bickered over his historically huge economic recovery plan after states and schools lost tens of billions of dollars in a late-night bargain to save it.

The Senate convened in a rare Saturday session to debate a compromise reached between a handful of GOP moderates led by Susan Collins of Maine, the White House and its Senate allies.

The agreement stripped $108 billion in spending from Obama’s plan. Changes included cutbacks in projects that likely would give the economy a quick lift, like $40 billion in aid to state governments for education and other programs.

The bill retained items that also probably will not do much for the economy, such as spending $1 billion to fix problems with the 2010 Census.

Among the most difficult cuts for the White House and its liberal allies to accept was the elimination of $40 billion in aid to states, money that economists say is an efficient way to pump up the economy by preventing layoffs, cuts in services or tax increases.

For all the talk of cuts, the bill retains the core of Obama’s plan, designed to ease the worst economic recession in generations by combining hundreds of billions of dollars in spending to boost consumption by the public sector with tax cuts designed to increase consumer spending.

Much of the new spending would be for victims of the recession, in the form of extending unemployment insurance through the end of the year and increasing benefits by $25 a week, free or subsidized health care, and increased food stamp payments.

Obama acknowledged the bill was far from perfect but said it would be too dangerous to leave it lifeless on the table.

The cost of the House version of the bill is $820 billion and is weighted more toward sending money to states and local governments.

Obama will take his case to the American people Monday with his first prime-time news conference.

With few education advocates chiming in on the stimulus cuts over the weekend, some liberal activists, however, are crying foul.

The compromise cuts reduce education spending by half, according to Think Progress, a forum that advances liberal ideas and policies.

“… it’s not just that this would be good funding on a moral level, but also that education funding provides strong stimulus. This is money that will be spent now, preventing teacher layoffs and upgrading equipment, while at the same time making an investment in human capital. Down the line, when the stimulus effects of the funding have worn off, these investments in a better educated workforce will still be paying dividends. And by cutting it, these Senators gain … what?

“There is also a flaw in the Senators’ thinking,” Think Progress continues. “They propose cutting 50 percent of some funding, but by leaving half of the money in they seem to be acknowledging that it is, in fact, stimulative. What is the point of affirming that funding will work as stimulus and then cutting it in half? This quibbling doesn’t do justice to the urgency of addressing our economic woes.”

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