Monday, December 15, 2008

Legislative Update

Congress returned to Washington, D.C., last week to continue organizational planning for the 111th Congress and to try to further respond to the country's economic woes. Hearings were held throughout the week at which governors and other experts made the case for a second economic stimulus package. The enormity of the crisis is fueling expectations that this new infusion of cash from the government, set to be taken up by President-Elect Obama on his first day in office, could cost as much as $1 trillion.

The recovery package's scope of payments and investments range from infrastructure projects ($3.5 billion targeted to schools) to Pell Grant supplements. The plans in between include increased funding for Medicaid, hiring teachers through more funding for Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act, funding for IDEA, more money for food stamps, furthering green energy efforts, general fund payments to states, investments related to technology and health-care reform, expanding early childhood education programs and extended unemployment benefits. The congressional leadership and the Obama administration are trying hard to hold down expectations but, so far, without much success.

Obama transition team members are moving at a fever pace. Meetings are being held with stakeholders of every persuasion as transition team members prepare to advise the new president on how he can change policies to accomplish campaign promises and hit the ground running at all government agencies when he takes office on Jan. 20. It is an enormous and complex undertaking that is generating high expectations for new and improved investments in every conceivable domestic arena.

On the more realistic front, Appropriations Committee staffers in the House and Senate are working hard behind the scenes to reach agreement on FY 2009 spending bills for all federal agencies. The goal appears to be debating an omnibus conference agreement in early January that can then be presented to the new president well before the continuing resolution expires March 6, 2009. If this bill includes the additional $25 billion that was a point of disagreement between President Bush and the 110th Congress, it will mark a small but important victory for education advocates who objected strongly to the education cuts the administration's FY 2009 budget proposed. It is uplifting to imagine billions of dollars of important new investments in education having the support of the new president and his team. It is also hard to imagine that the Treasury Department can print money fast enough to keep up with the new expectations and promises.


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