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McKeon: Spending for Spending’s Sake Has No Place in Economic Stimulus

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), the senior Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, today harshly criticized Democrats’ $825 billion stimulus package, arguing that it fails to create jobs and provide necessary tax relief to working families and small businesses. Instead, McKeon noted, the bill is little more than a bloated government spending package cobbled together in the dark of night without concern for its long-term economic and policy consequences.

“American workers, families, and businesses desperately need an economic stimulus package. Unfortunately, that’s not what congressional Democrats are offering,” said McKeon. “Instead, their package is nothing more than a mega-sized supplemental spending bill that will saddle future generations with almost unimaginable debt. The Pelosi-Obey plan isn’t about economic stimulus at all; it’s about massive government spending for favored constituencies.”

McKeon noted that the plan includes up to $145 billion in so-called emergency education spending, more than twice the entire current discretionary budget for the U.S. Department of Education. While some of the temporary funding increases are targeted to programs that have traditionally received bipartisan support—such as aid for disadvantaged students and Pell Grants to help low-income students pay for college—McKeon argued that funds included in an emergency spending package to provide economic stimulus should be focused on job creation and economic recovery, not simply more government spending. If Congress wishes to increase funding for education programs, McKeon said, the proposals should be given a fair and open debate rather than being tucked into a massive, unvetted “economic package.”

In response to the Democrats’ spending plan, the Republican staff of the Education and Labor Committee today released the following analysis of major concerns about education spending provisions in the legislation.

Education Update: Is it Economic Stimulus, or Just More Spending?

Later this week, the House is scheduled to vote on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a bill drafted less than two weeks ago without input from a single Republican (nor from most Democrats, for that matter). While the bill is being touted by its supporters as a necessary “economic stimulus package,” the actual contents of the legislation reveal not targeted stimulus measures, but rather a vast spending vehicle that seems designed to reward Democrats’ favored constituencies and shape federal policy outside the regular authorization and appropriations processes. Provided courtesy of the Republican staff of the Education and Labor Committee, below is a brief analysis of key concerns, particularly with the education funding aspects of the legislation.

It’s not about stimulus; it’s about advancing the Democrats’ policy priorities.

A key component of the massive education funding included in this Democratic spending package is the $20 billion allocation for school construction. This includes some $14 billion for K-12 and $6 billion for higher education to create new programs to fund the renovation and modernization of buildings, including technology upgrades and energy efficiency improvements. It’s no coincidence that Democrats are trying to quietly make the federal government responsible for building local schools—creating a federal school construction program was a key Democratic initiative in the 110th Congress, but one that they were not able to get enacted through regular order.

For more than 40 years, the federal focus for education spending has been deliberately limited to initiatives that assist disadvantaged students and help ensure equal educational opportunity. By putting the federal government in the business of building schools, Democrats may be irrevocably changing the federal government’s role in education in this country.

Just last year, Republicans issued a staff report examining the dangers of such a fundamental shift in federal education policy. The report, “It Doesn’t Add Up: The Dangers of a Federal School Construction Mandate,” explores three key elements of a federal foray into school construction: 1) a historical perspective on state and local responsibility for school construction and federal priorities for elementary and secondary education; 2) the impact of Depression-era Davis-Bacon wage mandates on school construction costs; and 3) an examination of proposals offered by congressional Democrats to create a federal school construction mandate. The report concluded that “a massive and unproven federal school construction program would undermine efforts to increase funding for the Title I program and IDEA, weaken efforts at the state level to fund school construction, dramatically increase the cost of elementary and secondary schools, and dramatically expand the size and scope of the federal government.”

If it doesn’t create jobs, it’s just more Washington spending.

Republicans agree that our economy is in need of a rapid recovery program that will create jobs and help families and small businesses that are struggling in the current downturn. That’s why Republicans are proposing a real economic recovery plan, which will let the American people keep more of what they earn to spur investment, encourage savings, and create more private-sector jobs.

Unfortunately, the Pelosi-Obey plan that will be brought to a vote this week has little to do with job creation or economic growth. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), less than half of the Democrat stimulus plan will be spent in the next two years. Rather than providing immediate relief to working families, Democrats are simply driving up the deficit with massive spending increases on their favorite programs.

Whether or not we support funding a particular program, if it’s not economic stimulus, it doesn’t belong in this legislation.

Perhaps the Washington Post said it best in an editorial that appeared yesterday, just days before this massive spending plan is scheduled for a vote in the House. It said, “Helping hire, equip and pay police, a $4 billion item under the bill, might be a good idea, but writing checks to individual households for the same amount would do more to stimulate the economy. Ditto for $16 billion in Pell Grants for college students, $2.1 billion for Head Start and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. All of those ideas may have merit, but why do they belong in an emergency measure aimed to kick-start the economy?

“[G]iven their cost, and the inherent difficulty of forecasting their impact, Congress should vet them through the normal legislative process, weigh them against other priorities and pay for them.”

Editorial, “Priming the Pump,” Washington Post, 01.25.09

The last thing our schools and communities need is more empty promises from Democrats.

Although some of the money in the bill is intended for worthy goals that enjoy bipartisan support, such as those that will increase student awards in the Pell Grant program or expand funding for disadvantaged children, these funding increases are slated to vanish after two years.

How will a student who begins his or her college education using the Pell Grant level provided in this year make up the difference when the additional federal money is no longer there in two years? Either every low-income student will see their Pell Grants slashed by $500 or more, or Congress will need to find at least $16 billion each and every year going forward just to maintain this funding level, never mind any future increases. This scenario will not only play out on college campuses, but in states, school districts, public schools, Head Start centers, and local workforce centers all across the country that are slated to receive billions in temporary taxpayer dollars.

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