• September 2, 2015

Obama Calls for Spending Freeze but Says He'll Spare Education


Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool, Getty Images

President Obama, delivering his State of the Union address on Tuesday, compared deficit-reduction proposals that would slash funds for education and research to lightening an airplane by removing its engine: "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool, Getty Images

President Obama, delivering his State of the Union address on Tuesday, compared deficit-reduction proposals that would slash funds for education and research to lightening an airplane by removing its engine: "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

In a State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama proposed a five-year freeze in discretionary spending on nondefense programs and vowed to veto any bill containing earmarks. But the president said he would spare education and research from the freeze and spending cuts, calling them vital to the nation's long-term growth and competitiveness.

"Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine," he said. "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

Mr. Obama said his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, due out in February, will call for spending on biomedical research, information technology, and clean-energy technology. He proposed paying for the increases by eliminating tax breaks for oil companies.

College lobbyists, not surprisingly, applauded the president's remarks.

"We agree with the president that the nation needs to take strong action to reduce budget deficits, and that as we do so, we must continue to direct additional resources toward research and education to ensure America's economic competitiveness and global leadership," said Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities. "It is our hope that sustained investment in research and education, even as we reduce deficits, is something Democrats and Republicans can agree on."

But increased spending could be a hard sell in the Republican-led House of Representatives, where many lawmakers campaigned on a pledge to reduce the deficit. The president's speech came just hours after House Republicans passed a symbolic resolution calling for cutting nonsecurity discretionary spending to 2008 levels.

The government is operating at spending levels set for the 2010 fiscal year under a continuing resolution that expires on March 4. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is crafting a spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year that he says would make the deepest spending cuts in the nation's history.

Rich Williams, higher-education advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, says that rolling back federal spending to 2008 levels would have "grave consequences" for the Pell Grant program, resulting in cuts of $1,500 for the neediest students.

As expected, the president focused his remarks on jobs and the economy, calling for bold action to spur job growth. But he also called for passage of legislation like the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship and student aid for undocumented students, and he urged colleges to welcome military recruiters and ROTC back to their campuses in the wake of the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which had barred gay Americans from openly serving in the military. "It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past," he said. "It is time to move forward as one nation."

President Obama also touted his success in ending student-loan subsidies to banks, and he called on Congress to make permanent a tuition tax credit worth $10,000 over four years. He also reiterated his goal for the nation to lead the world in college-completion rates by 2020.

At least one college student was on hand for the president's speech. Daniel Hernandez, a University of Arizona student who administered first aid to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in Tucson this month, sat with the first lady, Michelle Obama, during the address.

The president made no mention of the Education Department's proposed "gainful employment" rules, which could cut off federal student aid to programs in which students have high debt burdens and low repayment rates. But one major player from that controversial sector still got some airtime last night. The Apollo Group, parent corporation of the University of Phoenix, bought spots on NBC and ABC for time right after the president's speech to show two ads, one describing the university as an innovator in education and another featuring the university's teacher-education programs.


1. seraphpendragon - January 26, 2011 at 09:13 am

You know, when you're some $14 trillion in debt, you're going to have to cut a little more than discretionary spending. Increasing spending on "X" research and taxing "Y" industry to make up for it is not something I would dream of doing in bad times. Sounds like playing to the crowd. :-/

2. crlmail - January 26, 2011 at 10:36 am

Republicans and Democrats I am sure can agree on protecting education. However, the money has to come from somewhere. Get rid of government waste and earmarks but protect education.

3. 11223129 - January 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

I agree 100% with crlmail as protecting education really means little if money is not provided to do that. For example, with the cuts that we are experiencing just in CA alone there is no way that the US in a few years can lead the world in college grads! And, relative to "getting rid of government waste" let's get out of two wars that are not, and will not, accomplish anything but keeping us from spending monies for education, unemployment, housing, health care, etc.

4. softshellcrab - January 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

I'm sorry. You can't exempt education. I know we are a biased crowd on this issue, which is understandable, but you can't exempt education if you want to balance the federal budget. You can't exempt anything.

5. ghbrown1958 - January 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

You can't keep tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of the population either if you want a balanced budget. Which choice do you think is more productive to the nation?

6. rezonabil - January 26, 2011 at 11:20 am

It is not education overall in danger but the public education. I do not see any specific reason for federal money to be spent on public institutions since they are irresponsible.. Obama should give us a break with his socialistic agenda.

7. lkcox - January 26, 2011 at 11:39 am

Do you even know what socialism is rezonabil?

8. tcicollegeof - January 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Spending on "biomedical research, information technology, and clean-energy technology" means subsidizing the richest, most powerful corporations in the world by paying compromised universities to do their research for them. It means bailing oil companies out from the transition that looming environmental catastrophe is forcing them to make away from oil to something else for them to put in our tanks. There is no more voracious bottomless money pit than biomedical research; its return on investment has been miniscule. Remember the "war on cancer", which got us little more than earlier detection? Or the circus that accompanied transition of failed resources from cancer research to AIDS research (African AIDS, the cause of choice for such as Bill Gates and George Bush) which has produced only less toxic chemical cocktails. Let these corporations compete on their own in the marketplace without government subsidies, and see how they survive.

9. unclibrary - January 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Balancing the budget is simply not going to happen under the current regime, even with POTUS's good intentions. Congress is simply to beholden to too many interests to ever cut funding in all the areas where it is necessary, that includes education, social security, medicare, and even defense. Of course a lot could probably be saved by ensuring efficient spending in all those areas (eliminating waste to the extent possible). As for public education, with the amounts we now pay for public education and the need for even the well-off to get loans, all higher-ed is essentially semi-private now anyway.

10. seraphpendragon - January 26, 2011 at 01:44 pm

Well, I wouldn't say good intentions. I'd say words are words, and these are the same words we've heard before.

11. crixus - January 26, 2011 at 07:46 pm

A stronger economy and better, higher paying jobs in the future are going to come from businesses that produce products and services that don't yet exist. That will require investments in R&D and a highly educated and skilled workforce. If you want to make serious cuts, the defense budget is the place to target the carving knife. That, in addition to social security and medicare is where the money is so to speak. Defense certainly has fat and the military idustrial complex has been basking in war dollars for the past ten years. I would start there. As for social security, we have to consider gradually raising the retirement age from where it is now. Some of the growth in Medicare spending will be tackled by last year's health care bill...but that might not be enough...so that's a toughie. But to cut education and investment in R&D as we become less competitive globally and attract fewer of the best and brightest minds from around the world? Now that's pretty dang dumb. As a person living and working in China now, I can tell you that China is doing quite the opposite. In addition, more and more of the Chinese students here who pursue graduate degrees are choosing the U.K. over the U.S.A. - a trend that started shortly after 9/11. We have to reverse these ugly trends if we want our kids to have a better future than we did...and education and invesment in R&D is the key to that. Aside from better parenting (which is impossible to legislate specifically), this is the key to the future. President Obama is exactly right to point that out.

12. jaysanderson - January 27, 2011 at 10:45 am

As I watched the President speak two nights ago, I was at first pleased about education plans, but I realized that nearly EVERYONE was promised something in the speech. At that point, the whole thing sounded like those emails from wealthy, foreigners who desperately need a place to safely transfer 15 million dollars and I have been chosen to help (Wow!).

13. edwardcj - January 27, 2011 at 11:49 am

Smoke and mirrors. He said he wanted a freeze. Then he promised help to education, to solar energy, to biomedics. Excuse me? The governement is going to do all that, or is private industry? What he and Congress should concentrate on is eliminating all the unneeded regulations, taxes, mandates, etc that cobble the system, not throw more of OUR money at bureaucrats. As for education, I think we need to be looking at how we can live within our means as well. It may mean raising the bar for incoming students to higher education, perhaps more trade schools.

14. smcdonald999 - January 27, 2011 at 01:57 pm

Protect education? oh that's rich. Higher education continues to experience one of the most rapid productivity declines ever witnessed by a modern free market economy.

Students are:

1. experiencing record amounts of stress (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/education/27colleges.html);

2.learning very little (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41136935/ns/us_news-education/); and

3. taking on life long amounts of non-dismissible debt for the privilege (http://www.educationsector.org/publications/drowning-debt-emerging-student-loan-crisis)

Yeah, lets keep protecting that wonderful sector of the economy. How else to seperate the wheat from the chaff?

15. physicsprof - February 10, 2011 at 10:05 am

Hipocricy. We have more than 800 foreign military bases not counting those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Speaking of waste...

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