By Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation, Council of Great City Schools|from Nov/Dec Urban Educator | http://www.cgcs.org/UE/Nov_Dec10.pdf
The recent elections, the Tea Party movement, and the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility all converge on controlling the federal deficit. Yet, much of the action so far during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress would add to the national debt. The high level negotiations between Congressional leaders and the White House over the Bush-era tax rates and the estate tax, the Obama tax cuts of 2009, the extended unemployment insurance benefits, and the FY11 appropriations all boost the national debt.
The irony of having a political debate about lowering the deficit while having members vote to do the opposite is more than even the most cynical Washington-watchers can bear. The proposal to reduce the deficit by $700 billion over 10 years by not renewing the current top-tier tax rates and other big-ticket tax breaks is not likely to survive the political need to not raise taxes on anyone -- even the most affluent. Reports of a tentative agreement between the White House and selected members of Congress would cost nearly $900 billion primarily over the next two years, including nearly $130 billion for the expiring top tax breaks and the estate tax; $112 billion for a 2 percent payroll tax cut for everyone, $56 billion for extended unemployment insurance; $44 billion in tax credits for the poor, children, and higher education coursework; $112 billion for business investments; and $380 billion to extend the middle class and lower income tax breaks and adjust the alternative mimimum tax. Believe it or not, the pending agreement exceeds the cost of the 2009 Stimulus legislation or the 2008 bank bailout--and none of it is paid for. If one thought that the public’s concern about the deficit was Congress’s paramount focus, then the public should think again, for there are higher political priorities now at play.
Outside the Capitol beltway, such stark differences between rhetoric and reality appear simply nonsensical. But,
many examples of such behavior can be found even in the education arena. There is widespread concern that the most critical education programs are inadequately funded, but new programs are being created in a way that will compete with the limited resources that do exist. In addition, there has been an emphasis on research-based or evidence-based programs over the last 10 years, yet marginally-effective approaches and unproven strategies continue to find their way into the national education agenda. And, with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) being roundly criticized as punitive, even harsher actions have been imposed under the Stimulus “reform” programs. Expecting Washington to be consistent is often a fool’s errand.
In any case, there appear to be higher priorities for both the political right and left than deficit reduction, despite all the noise about the nation’s debt. The Council of the Great City Schools does not usually take positions on such mega-tax policies now under congressional consideration. But, the spasm of new tax and other expenditures that the proposed tax deal represents will do nothing but create an atmosphere where members of Congress will later claim that they can’t increase education investments because all the money is gone. And one need look no further than the proposed education freezes in the Continuing Resolution (H.R. 3082) now pending in Congress for evidence to support that claim.
It is notable that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility has emphasized the need for America to invest in economic growth and competitiveness, including education, infrastructure, and research. Yet, the Commission’s main charge to the White House and Congress is to “put up or shut up” on the national deficit and debt. In the short run, it doesn’t look like we will see either one.