Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Deficit Reduction Should Not Happen at the Expense of Student Loan Funding

This morning my two-year-old son got the best of me.

My wife went grocery shopping yesterday and picked up a giant box of Lucky Charms breakfast cereal. You know, the one with the little guy who laments, "They're always after me lucky charms!" I don't buy it any more when I do the shopping, because I know the kids will eat all the marshmellows (the "charms") and leave the reast of the fodder to soak (what we call the "luckies"). My kids are charm-pickers.

Pete got his first bowl of Lucky Charms, ate the charms, left the luckies, and then wanted more. "No," I said. "You have to finish the rest of it." He must not have heard me, because when I returned from the bathroom, I found Pete happily sitting on the floor, picking through the contents of the entire giant box of Lucky Charms, looking for the luckies. He offerred me a rainbow charm and let me join in his feast.

The charms are probably the least healthy part of Pete's breakfast, but its his favorite part because they're so tasty. Despite being more nutritious, he'll always leave the luckies to spoil.

In the morning paper, I read that that the U.S. Senate approved a five-year, $40 billion deficit reduction package during the final hours before Dec. 21. The measure is set to pass in the House of Representatives this month, and would cut Medicaid and farm subsidies, among other programs, and is being touted as an example of future spending restraint.

USA Today observed that this attempt at "deficit reduction" is trivial. "$40 billion over five years might seem like a lot, but it pales compared with the $1.1 trillion in cumulative deficits for the same period that the White House projected last summer. It's perhaps 20% of the money Washington will spend to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast," the noted in an editorial today.

And $12.7 Billion of this is being cut from Student Loans, while college tuition continues to inflate faster than the personal income of the students and their parents.

It seems to me that in a world of increasing global competition, in a country that must import increase numbers of doctors, scientists, engineers and other educated professionals (the House voted in November to triple the number of H1B Visas), that we should be doing all we can to ensure that numbskulls like my little Pete and workers-in-transition will be able to access the higher education system in this country. That's the best way to help ensure that our economy will have the intellectual resources its needs to compete, and the best way to ensure that Pete won't become any more of a burden than he already is.

Don't be fooled by a couple of insignificant Congressional attempts at "tough decisions" that will "reduce the deficit" but require "sacrifice" from people who don't vote (like the poor, the sick and students). Deficit spending is way out of control, as is the national debt. Since I last commented on the national debt on Dec. 29, it has grown by another $13 Billion.

If we're going to make a difference in bringing in our national debt, then we need to look at where the budget is most out of control. Iraq and the Pentagon are good places to begin the discussion.

While porkbarrel projects may be a delicious charms in Congress's bowl of sugary cereal, America will still need some nutrition in its diet if it is going to remain healthy and viable as a country. Education is nutritional for America, America values education, America needs educated workers, and so education needs to remain accessible to Americans.

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