Congress might cut loan funding

Cati Vanden Breul

Late last month, Congress approved a joint budget resolution for fiscal year 2006, putting it one step closer to determining the contents of next year’s federal budget.

The resolution would cut billions of dollars in funding from federal student-loan programs during the next five years, but aims to eliminate the $4.3 billion shortfall of the Pell Grant program and would raise the maximum grant award by $100 in 2006.

The savings would go toward reducing the federal budget deficit.

No Democrats voted in favor of the resolution.

“The budget proposed by the president and the Republican leadership in Congress fails our future,” said

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in a statement released April 28.

“For the first time in a decade, this budget cuts the education budget. As college costs are going up, as the need for a college degree is rising ├ľ the budget for education is going down,” Kennedy said.

But Jason Delisle, legislative assistant for Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., said actual spending will continue to increase each year but at a slower rate.

“There will not be cuts in spending in most cases; we’ll still increase spending every year, just slow down the increase by a certain amount,” Delisle said.

The resolution instructs the Committee on Education and the Workforce to come up with approximately $12.7 billion in savings during the next five years, he said. Cuts in federal student-loan programs are expected to make up $7 billion, with the rest expected to come from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Delisle said.

But there is no binding agreement for what funds will be cut, he said.

The committee will decide and identify where the savings will come from, said Alexa Marrero, the committee’s press secretary.

“It is our committee that will determine how the savings targets are achieved, and it is simply too soon to know how higher education (or any other program for that matter) will be impacted by the budget resolution,” Marrero said.

But some Democrats said the budget is shortchanging education funding to provide tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

“Overall, the budget resolution is absolutely fiscally irresponsible and morally flawed because it sets forth the wrong set of priorities for our country,” said Bill Harper, chief of staff for Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

Republicans are providing tax cuts to the wealthy by cutting funds to students, seniors, children and working families, Harper said.

“The budget cuts funding to students who are going to need to be educated and trained in order to have a competitive workforce,” he said.

But Marrero said Republicans and Democrats agree on some issues. For example, both parties agree on moving the student loan consolidation interest rate to a variable interest rate, instead of a fixed rate, she said.

Disagreement is inevitable, however, Marrero said.

“We will no doubt continue to face differences of opinion,” she said.

“However, we have identified expanding college access for low- and middle-income

students as our primary objective for the Higher Education Act, and I expect that Republicans and Democrats will find ways to work together to achieve that goal,” Marrero said.

The federal budget must be signed into law by President George W. Bush on or before Oct. 1.