Obama Attacks Education Cuts, Nelson Unable To Defend

Bill Scher

Yesterday, President Barack Obama made clear he is not accepting the Senate “Gang of Moderates” compromise as is, while the Senate moderates failed to mount a logical defense of their cuts.

In short, The Senate compromise on economic recovery means to prevent $70 billion in unintended “Alternative Minimum Tax” increases largely for upper-middle-class Americans (desirable perhaps, but not stimulative and best dealt with in a tax reform bill), the diminished but still influential “Gang of Moderates” slashed $16 billion for jobs in school construction and improvements, as well as $40 billion for aid to distressed state governments, a cut which will risk massive layoffs for police, firefighters and teachers.

Bizarrely, the Senate moderates’ talking point is that their compromise is all about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” when their version would create or save 600,000 fewer jobs.

The President had made modernizing our classrooms a central feature of his case for the economic recovery bill. Despite the Senate cut, he still is.

At the Elkhart, Indiana town hall, he was quite blunt:

The Senate version cut a lot of these education dollars. I would like to see some of it restored. And over the next few days, as we’re having these conversations, we should talk about how we can make sure that we’re investing in education, because that’s what’s going to keep companies investing right here in the United States over the long term.

At the evening press conference, he was not explicitly critical of the Senate, but his position in favor of the House school construction funds was unmistakable:

Education, yet another example. The suggestion is, why should the federal government be involved in school construction?

Well, I visited a school down in South Carolina that was built in the 1850s. Kids are still learning in that school, as best they can, when … it’s right next to a railroad. And when the train runs by, the whole building shakes and the teacher has to stop teaching for a while. The auditorium is completely broken down They can’t use it.

So why wouldn’t we want to build state-of-the-art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy, and, by the way, right now, will create jobs?

After the press conference, “Gang of Moderates” leader Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was pressed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to defend the school construction cuts. His response is nonsensical (emphasis added):

MADDOW: Why did you push to cut more than $15 billion of school construction money out of the bill?

NELSON: Well, the Republicans who are looking to join with us have an aversion to federal money going for that kind of a program. It is a state responsibility, local responsibility. Local governing boards – boards of education.

I, too, am concerned about money coming from Washington. As governor, I faced the under-funded mandate of special education where the Federal Government promised to be a partner with it. I faced back here a decision about “No Child Left Behind,” another under-funded federal mandate.

There is a very sincere concern about the Federal Government getting involved in local education. My colleagues on the other side were very leery about that, and so they insisted that that not be included at the level that it had been.


So, because Senate “moderates” are concerned that the federal government won’t keep school funding promises to states, these federal legislators are cutting proposed school funding to states. Got it?

The argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. And President Obama insistence on talking up education is ensuring that it gets scrutiny.

Next question: will the President do the same today for aid to state governments?

One sign: at today’s town hall in Florida, the President will be joined by pro-stimulus Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

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