COMMENTARY | The congressional super committee held its first meeting last week in an effort to trim $1.2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. Such a monumental task will surely take every day until the Thanksgiving deadline to deliver a proposal that will be acceptable to House Republicans and Senate Democrats.
As Congress struggles to identify cuts for the next decade, some federal programs should be exempt from the budget paring knife. Programs that provide essential services or deliver benefits far in excess of their cost should not be targeted for reduction, nor should they be included in any mandatory cuts that would occur should Congress be unable to act before the statutory deadline.
Saving these programs, for example, continues to provide taxpayer support to programs that make a difference, both today and in the future.
Pell Grant funding for qualified students increased by $2.5 billion between fiscal years 2010 and 2011, to a current appropriation of $34.9 billion. These funds are critically essential to promote higher education for students in colleges, universities and vocational schools. In order to remain competitive in the changing economy, the U.S. government should continue to prioritize educational grants, especially in the fields of science, math and instruction (teachers). With unemployment holding at 9.1 percent, more chronically unemployed should be encouraged to expand their education by returning to school for additional training or a formalized degree.
Several bills have been introduced in the current Congress proposing to cut Pell Grant funding by up to 15 percent in the current fiscal year. Reduced funding would directly impact the 6.2 million students who receive this form of federal tuition assistance. Pell Grant funding, or another similar program, should be exempt from any budget cuts to preserve this financial aid tool for students.
More should be done to insure that only qualified classes are paid for with federal funding. Many for-profit online universities have entry-level courses designed to instruct students on how to study online. These classes cost more than $2,000 at the University of Phoenix Online and offer nothing that would benefit a student in the workplace. These classes represent an abuse of federal funding and should be investigated by the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General’s office.
Small Business Administration
The backbone of the U.S. economy – and the catalyst for adding new jobs – is America’s small businesses. All experts agree that the jobs recovery will be led by small business hiring. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership is one administered through the U.S. Department of Commerce designed to promote job creation by helping businesses become more efficient. The MEP provides $129 million annually to non-profit business support centers that help American manufacturing companies identify inefficiencies and adopt new procedures to increase output.
The Obama administration is seeking to boost FY2012 spending for this program to $143 million, a marginal increase for programs geared to helping companies expand. While funded entirely from the general fund (taxpayer sources), the proposed increase is relatively budget-neutral and can be accomplished through minimal efficiencies adopted within the Commerce Department. The added funds would permit controlled expansion of a program that is working in selected cities.
Despite the retirement of the entire space shuttle fleet, NASA funding needs to be protected from any budget cuts. For FY2011, NASA funding reached $19 billion, which included billions of dollars for the now-completed shuttle flights. FY2012 funding should remain the same, with the shuttle funds diverted toward programs that encourage Americans to return to space. Medical, environmental, and scientific achievements of the space program have been enormous, and our ability as a country to remain competitive demands resources to be fully invested there.
Additional spending should be denied until NASA has a comprehensive plan for where the space program will go from here. Until then, reducing their resources would be bad for the United States on too many levels.
Each of these programs provide benefits far beyond their perceived reach. Preparing workers for the job market, creating jobs and discovering new innovations all play a vital role in the U.S. economy and deserve the funding and protection of taxpayers – even in tough, tight financial times.