Senate Spending Bill Would Close Gap in Pell Grants but Kill Another Aid Program

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled a spending package on Tuesday that would fill a $5.7-billion shortfall in the Pell Grant program but eliminate the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership program, which matches each dollar that states commit to need-based aid.

The bill, which Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Democrat of Hawaii, hopes to substitute for a House-passed spending bill when that measure reaches the Senate floor this week, would provide no increase for most other student-aid programs and would raise spending on the National Institutes of Health by $750-million.

Introduction of the bill, which would cover spending for the 2011 fiscal year, already nearly three months old, came a week after the House of Representatives passed a long-term "continuing resolution" that would freeze most discretionary spending at last year’s levels through September 30, 2011. But that measure also would close the gap in the Pell Grant program. Without that money, the maximum Pell award could be slashed by as much as 15 percent, from $5,550 to $4,705.

The House bill would not explicitly eliminate the LEAP program, as the matching program for need-based aid is known, but there is no guarantee that the Obama administration would finance the program under a long-term continuing resolution, which would leave some spending decisions up to the Education Department. Both the White House and House Democrats have proposed eliminating the program, calling it duplicative of other aid programs.

The Senate is expected to take up the House’s continuing resolution on Friday or Saturday. During debate on it, Senator Inouye will try to replace the measure with his spending package, an "omnibus" bill that wraps all of the 12 unfinished spending bills for the 2011 fiscal year into one huge measure. In a written statement, Mr. Inouye said that the omnibus legislation would allow lawmakers to make billions of dollars in cuts to "wasteful" programs and to redirect the money to other areas.

"I do not believe that putting the government on autopilot for a full year is in the best interest of the American people," he said.

To meet Republican demands, Senate Democrats agreed to cut $29-billion from President Obama’s budget request, including $2.4-billion from the labor, health, and education portion of the package. However, they also included thousands of earmarks requested by members of both parties, in defiance of Republicans wishes. Republicans have voted for an earmark moratorium, and the House bill contains none of the pet projects.

THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

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