Shovel-Ready Stimulus Buries Schools

Shovel This, kids. Last weekend, Senate Democrats, in trying to get
a filibuster-proof number of Republicans on board with the stimulus
bill, allowed tens of billions of dollars to be slashed from education.
It made you forget who won the election.

Senator John McCain, so persuasive with his economic plans during the
presidential campaign that he lost to Barack Obama 365 electoral votes
to 173, howled that stimulus spending was at the point of "generational
theft." In the House, Republican Mike Pence of Indiana said, "The
center of this stimulus bill is massive, unaccountable government
spending and the American people are tired of it."

Wait a minute.
What the American people were tired of back in November was the massive
spending on Iraq, and the unaccountability of such entities as former
Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton, and other overcharging no-bid
military, terrorism, and disaster contractors. As Iraq stole a tragic
portion of the next generation, Big Oil lurked in the background
racking up record profits, with even less accountability.

One of
the most chronic aspects of the Bush years was the underfunding of
education, most notably the halfway spending by Republicans of their
own pet project, No Child Left Behind. This was all supposed to change
under Obama. But the so-called Democratic majority in the Senate has
not yet gotten the memo from the voters to stand up for the kids.

Senate version of the stimulus plan had $40 billion less for state aid
than the House bill, to account for current or looming school cuts. The
Senate had $2 billion less in Pell college grants, $1 billion less for
Head Start, and $16 billion less in school construction aid.

and the administration loudly lamented the cuts. White House economic
adviser Lawrence Summers said, "There are crucial areas, support for
higher education, that are things that are in the House bill that are
very, very important to the president." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
said, "Education is fundamental to everything we are trying to do.
These cuts are very dangerous. The House package was put together very
carefully. I am very much opposed to the cuts proposed in the Senate."

lament was supposed to be history last Nov. 4. The Democrats are also
being squeezed by the rhetoric of expediency, with Obama constantly
saying that the more we wait to do anything, the more we face a
"catastrophe." A catastrophe may indeed be looming, but it does not
have to mean capitulation to the old way of making sure tax cuts in the
stimulus come before aid to education and tax breaks to buy cars come
before building schools (which Senate Democrats sponsored),
particularly as education for public school children keeps slipping
behind the rest of the developed world.

But when will the old way give way to the new? That is unclear.

one hand, Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland
asserted Sunday on FOX News that the $16 billion for school
construction is quite "shovel-ready" as it, of course, "puts people
back to work." But then expediency kicked in. He added, "There's a lot
we think in the House bill we should have in the final package. Having
said that, we are not in the business of drawing lines in the sand,
because we believe the overriding priority right now is to get
something done."

That seems a little soft, given that Pelosi said the Senate cuts "do violence to what we are trying to do for the future."

Republicans may be doing violence, but the Democrats have to stop doing
themselves in. Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota bluntly said,
"Education took a big hit here."

That tells you the change that
Obama promised may not be coming in the stimulus, unless he pulls out
his bully pulpit club. Obama said over the weekend, "Let's do whatever
it takes to keep the promises of America alive in our time." But as of
this moment, the kids are being told they are not shovel-ready. The
Senate, in the negotiations of expediency, has yet to dig deep for them.

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