Congress voted late Thursday night to adopt a budget blueprint that would direct appropriators to provide virtually no new funds for higher education.
In the compromise budget resolution that Senate and House of Representatives lawmakers crafted this week to iron out differences between the budget resolutions adopted by their respective chambers, House leaders stuck to their guns and mostly got their way in the extremely tight budget, much to the dismay of college lobbyists.
Gone in the compromise were many provisions from the Senate bill that made its version far preferable to higher education officials: While the compromise version does provide enough funds to raise the maximum Pell Grant by $100 a year over five years and reportedly to sustain the Perkins Loan Program that President Bush has proposed wiping out, it does not set aside $5.5 billion, as the Senate had sought to, for a reserve fund that could be used by House and Senate lawmakers to consider allocating as they extend the Higher Education Act later this year.
It also omits a $5.4 billion amendment by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that the Senate had added to its version of the budget resolution, which would have instructed appropriators to increase the Pell Grant by $450 in 2006 and ensured that appropriators had enough money to protect numerous other higher education programs, like TRIO and GEAR UPprograms for disadvantaged students and job-training grants, that the Bush adminsitration budget would eliminate.
"For the first time in a decade, this budget cuts the education budget," Kennedy said in a news release Thursday night. "As college costs are going up, as the need for a college degree is rising, as we need more graduates in math and science to remain competitive in the modern world, the budget for education is going down."
The compromise budget resolution calls for about $7 billion in cuts to the student loan programs, though it was not clear late Thursday night whether the resolution includes instructions on what form those cuts should take.
Budget resolutions are non-binding, and the actual budget decisions are made by the appropriations committees in both houses. But they often give a sense of Congress's intentions, and this year, those intentions are pretty clear: cut, cut, cut.
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