You Can Breathe Now: We Have a Budget
by Allan Joseph | University of Notre Dame
Seriously, you can. You might have been holding your breath, but the government passed a budget! Sure, it was literally at the eleventh hour; of course, it’s only for the second half of fiscal year 2011 (FY11) and there are more looming fights, but it happened. The government didn’t shut down (well, it did for an hour, but that’s a technicality) — and really, it could have been worse for college students.
Quite a few of the early proposals for cutting the budget involved slicing Pell Grants and scientific research, policies that would have really hurt college students. As details of the budget deal trickle out, it seems that these proposals have not been included, and college students will be protected as part of President Obama’s plan to “win the future.”
One proposal involved cutting the maximum Pell Grant award by 15% (this one was proposed by the Republicans), while the President’s proposal involved curtailing summer Pell Grants. While the maximum grant will remain at $5,550, it is unclear whether summer Pell Grants will be eliminated. The budget deal involves cutting $500 million by reforming the Pell Grant program, which almost certainly means that the summer grant program will be pared back, if not eliminated.
While the President’s original budget proposal called for a doubling in funding for the National Science Foundation and other research agencies, and the Republican proposal called for significant cuts, the budget deal seems to strike a middle ground. No specific numbers are given, but the White House says that “strong investments” will be made, which probably means that funding will be increased, but not nearly as much as the President would have requested.
The biggest concern for college students lies in the months to come. Washington may have moved past the FY11 debate, but the rapidly closing debt ceiling and upcoming 2012 budget fight will provide two more stages for controversy between the Democrats and Republicans. Republicans are already claiming that they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling (a very serious charge) unless serious efforts are made to reform entitlements (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security).
The Republicans already released their proposal, Rep. Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity. It’s a very ambitious budget, with extremely significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Though there’s no room to go into the pros and cons of the Ryan budget, the most important thing to realize about the Ryan plan is that it has no chance of becoming law. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Oval Office, the Ryan plan will never pass. It does, however, represent an “opening bid” of sorts. It’s a statement of the Republicans’ ideological priorities.
President Obama is expected to release his own entitlement proposal sometime this week or next. That will represent the Democrats’ starting bid. From there, the two parties will debate and try to find a solution before a debt-ceiling compromise throws the economy into a tailspin. College students should watch closely to ensure that whatever reforms are passed work — even reforms that cut the programs but put them on solid financial footing- are ideal for us. It’s best that these programs are around in the long run — so we need them to work.
It’s going to be a very interesting few months in Washington. If this past deal is any indication, however, our generation might be on better footing than we once thought.Allan Joseph is a sophomore Economics and Pre-medical student at the University of Notre Dame. He covers healthcare, the economy, and occasionally, college sports for NextGen Journal.