Spending Showdown

WASHINGTON — The only real question is: Deep or much deeper?

As President Obama prepares to issue his 2012 budget blueprint today — which administration officials acknowledge will include meaningful cuts for some key higher education programs — House Republicans released legislation Friday that would slash federal spending for colleges and students much more sharply than the president and Democratic-controlled Senate are likely to find acceptable.

The distance between their positions on spending for higher education and similar debates over many other parts of the government could, at its worst, lead to a shutdown of the federal government between now and March 4, when the current continuing resolution to fund federal operations for 2011 expires. If Congress does not pass and the president does not sign new legislation by then, the government would shut down.

That’s a prospect that neither President Obama nor the Congressional Republican leadership seems to enjoy — but that the GOP’s charged-up Tea Party memberr (who are pushing hard for the deepest possible cuts) might relish.

President Obama has promised to privilege, if not entirely protect, education and research even as his administration accepts the reality that the government must rein in spending to reduce its budget deficit. News reports Sunday said that the president would propose a budget Monday that would cut spending by $1.1 trillion over a decade.

Although details on specific programs were few and far between, the news reports indicated that education and research programs would gain, on average, as the president seeks to ensure that, as he said in his State of the Union address, the country invests in its ability to "win the future."

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