WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 13, 2010
Congress may not have been in session these last several weeks, but plenty has been happening in Washington and around the nation. Below is a brief recap of notable education and labor news – what you might have missed and what is worth watching in the waning days of the congressional session.
Common Standards Pave Way for National Tests
For months, advocates for local control of education have warned about the dangers of federalizing state academic standards. What first was painted as a voluntary, state-led effort to modernize and standardize learning goals has transformed into a clear movement toward federally approved standards and nationally standardized tests. The Washington Post reported in early September about the latest federal foray into what students are taught and how they are tested:
“The federal government awarded $330 million Thursday to two groups that are developing new student assessment systems for the District, Maryland and dozens of other states in an effort to upgrade their much-maligned standardized tests.
“Drawn from the Obama administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund, the grants aim to build on the fast-growing movement toward national standards in English and math. With new expectations for what students should learn come new hopes for improving how their achievement is measured. …
“In Virginia, which hasn't joined the movement, state officials have said they prefer to rely on their Standards of Learning testing and accountability program. Critics elsewhere have suggested that national standards will erode state and local control of schools. But Obama officials said Thursday's announcement does not presage a federal takeover of testing systems.”
(Nick Anderson, “U.S. looks beyond standard testing,” The Washington Post, 09.03.10)
Despite these assurances from the Obama administration, parents and local education leaders have every right to question whether the voluntary common standards movement is being transformed into a national testing regime.
National Service Program Scrutinized Over Awarding of Federal Grants
As part of a massive expansion of federally funded national service initiatives enacted last year, Congress created the $50 million Social Innovation Fund. This pot of taxpayer dollars was designed to create national service middle men – providing federal funding to organizations that simply pass the funding to other organizations. However, as The New York Times reported last month, the first round of federal grants has come under scrutiny because of a murky review process, secrecy surrounding those who determine funding recipients, and potential conflicts of interest with awards made to organizations closely affiliated with high-ranking federal national service officials:
"In late July, the Social Innovation Fund, a new $50 million federal program aimed at financing the replication of nonprofit programs that work, made its first grants.
“But what was supposed to have been an emblem of the administration’s commitment to nonprofit groups has become instead a messy controversy over potential conflicts of interest and the process used to select the grantees.
“Several of the 48 independent reviewers who vetted the initial 54 applications for the grants were surprised by some of the winners because they had awarded them mediocre scores. …
“But the fund has not disclosed who reviewed the grants — or who applied for them or the ratings the applicants received, information that often is provided by many other government agencies that make grants.”
(Stephanie Strom, “Nonprofit Fund Faces Questions About Conflicts and Selection Procedures,” The New York Times, 08.21.10)
For an administration that promised to usher in a new era of transparency in government, the secrecy surrounding how these grants were awarded is deeply troubling.
CMS Study Reaffirms ObamaCare Leads to Higher Health Care Costs
For many months, Democrats promised a government takeover of health care would bring down health care costs. They continued making these promises despite warnings to the contrary by independent experts and overwhelming opposition from the American people. Now, less than six months since Democrats pushed their bill through Congress, a new report is providing the latest in a growing pile of evidence that ObamaCare fails to reduce the burden of high health care costs that is crushing America’s families and small businesses:
“The health-care overhaul enacted last spring won't significantly change national health spending over the next decade compared with projections before the law was passed, according to government figures set to be released Thursday.
“The report by federal number-crunchers casts fresh doubt on Democrats' argument that the health-care law would curb the sharp increase in costs over the long term, the second setback this week for one of the party's biggest legislative achievements.
“Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that insurance companies have proposed rate increases ranging from 1% to 9% nationwide that they attribute specifically to new health-law coverage mandates. …
“Regardless of the health law, national health spending has been rising in recent years and economists expect that to continue. In February, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projected that overall national health spending would increase an average of 6.1% a year over the next decade.
“The center’s economists recalculated the numbers in light of the health bill and now project that the increase will average 6.3% a year, according to a report in the journal Health Affairs. Total U.S. health spending will reach $4.6 trillion by 2019, accounting for nearly one of every five U.S. dollars spent, the report says.”
Janet Adamy, “Health Outlays Still Seen Rising,” Wall Street Journal, 9/8/2010)
There is still time left for Democrats to make good on their promises to lower health care costs. They can start by joining Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with commonsense solutions that will actually lower costs for the American people.
CBO Predicts More Tough Economic Times Lie Ahead
After 19 months of so-called stimulus spending, the national unemployment rate has remained above 9 percent for 16 straight months. Democrats promised their $814 billion stimulus program would create jobs, but the only thing most Americans see is more government and more debt. In August, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest report on the state of the economy and the federal budget; after months of out-of-control government spending, both continue to look very bleak:
“The U.S. economy faces difficult times ahead with chronic unemployment and slow manufacturing hurting the pace of recovery, the head of Congress' budget agency said on Thursday.
“The warning from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office came on top of more bad U.S. economic data that heightened concerns about a return to recession, roiling markets. The gloomy outlook could also spell trouble for Democrats facing November congressional elections.
“The CBO forecast the U.S. budget deficit will hit $1.342 trillion this year, down slightly from its March projection of $1.368 trillion. It attributed most of the $27 billion change in its fiscal 2010 deficit projection to an estimated $50 billion reduction in the cost of TARP, the U.S. government's bailout of financial institutions in 2009.
“But the figures show that without significant changes in U.S. tax and spending laws, the government will struggle to dig its way out of a deep fiscal deficit hole.”
Richard Cowan and Donna Smith, “More tough economic times forecast by CBO,” Reuters, 8/20/2010)
If any doubt remained, this latest CBO report continues to make the case that the economic policies of the Obama administration and Democratic Congress have failed to live up to their promises.
Big Labor Optimistic for Lame Duck Card Check
With health care costs rising, nearly 15 million unemployed workers searching for jobs, and budget deficits reaching unsustainable levels, the American people want Congress to focus on solutions to create jobs, lower health care costs, and rein in government spending. But Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO and close Democratic ally, spent the summer weeks steadfastly insisting Congress will find time to fulfill Big Labor’s top legislative wish: passing the anti-worker card check bill.
“One of the top legislative priorities for labor unions is the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as card check. The bill would make it easier for unions to organize the workplace.
“The legislation has been far off the radar for the last year once it became apparent that supporters did not have the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.
“Since then, the legislation has appeared all but dead. However, Mr. Trumka made clear he expects further congressional action on EFCA this year.”
Quinn Bowman and David Chalian, “Trumka: ‘Stay Tuned’ for Fall Congressional Action on Card Check,” PBS NewsHour’s The Rundown blog, 9/6/2010)
Despite our lagging economy, the labor chief isn’t the only one who refuses to give up the ghost on card check. In early August President Obama renewed his commitment to moving this job-killing scheme through Congress. Why Democrats would spend precious time fighting for a proposal that strips workers of their right to a secret ballot and destroys jobs is a question that deserves a honest answer.