Monday, January 19, 2009

Legislative Update

Last week was a busy one on Capitol Hill with many of President-elect Obama's cabinet nominees appearing before Senate Committees for their confirmation hearings. Arne Duncan, nominee for the post of Education Secretary, was warmly welcomed by all members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and is a sure bet for confirmation.

While Duncan wowed the Senate HELP Committee members, nominee Peter Orszag spoke to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about changes he would implement as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Education advocates were pleased to hear him speak unfavorably about the current administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) evaluation system that has been the basis for many recommendations to eliminate funding for programs at the Department of Education. Orszag finds great fault with PART and clearly intends to develop an alternative for assessing quality and impact. He also made it clear that despite the spending spree outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 ($825 billion and counting), there will be cuts and program eliminations proposed in the first Obama federal budget, the outline of which will be released in early February. He gave no hint as to what agencies might be affected.

Negotiations on the stimulus package involving leadership in the House and Senate, key committee chairs and members of the Obama Transition Team, including the president-elect himself, also took place throughout the week. On Jan. 15 a plan combining tax cuts and spending increases at every government agency was in circulation. Education programs received generous treatment in the package with $140 billion directed to states for general relief and to prevent cuts in programs, as well as significant funding for construction and renovation of schools, technology upgrades and training, increases in Title I and IDEA funds and significant increases in Pell Grants, student loans and Work Study programs. If the bill released by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) makes it to the president's desk in February, it will provide welcome relief for school districts and colleges and universities throughout the nation.


No comments: