Sunday, August 12, 2012

Romney's VP Pick of Paul Ryan Puts Spending Debate in the Spotlight

This from Politics K-12:
Gov. Mitt Romney [yesterday] announced that he's tapping Rep. Paul Ryan , R-Wis., for vice president, a move that puts the debate over how best to put the nation's fiscal house in order front-and-center in the presidential campaign.

Ryan's controversial budget blueprint, which has been passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, would seek big cuts to discretionary spending (which includes most education programs). In fact, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the budget could have "disastrous consequences for America's children."

The Obama campaign has already blasted the pick, citing the potential impact of the Ryan budget on education spending.

"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," said Jim Messina, an Obama campaign manager, in a statement. "The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid."

Back in March, Duncan told the House Appropriations panel that oversees education spending that the Ryan budget could cut Title I grants to districts, which right now total $14.5 billion, by as much as $2.7 billion, while special education could be cut by as much as $2.2 billion. Special education state grants are currently funded at $11.6 billion.

Republicans have pointed out that Democrats can't really make those claims, since the Ryan budget doesn't spell out exactly what the magnitude of the cuts to individual programs would be—it just seeks big, overall cuts to discretionary spending (the broad category that funds education, as well as many other domestic programs).

Ryan's budget, which hasn't advanced very far in the Democratic-controlled Senate, also seeks big changes to the Pell Grant program, which offers grants to help low-income students attend college. The program has gotten pricier in recent years, thanks in part to very high demand for the grants as more students enroll in post-secondary education. The Ryan budget would seek to put Pell Grants on sounder fiscal ground through a series of programmatic changes that have gotten some higher education advocates very upset. But Ryan argues that increased federal student aid has had some unintended consequences, giving cover for colleges who want to jack-up their tuition prices.

Ryan's selection is sure to have big implications for a debate over the future of education spending currently underway in Congress. Right now, lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do about a set of across-the-board trigger cuts, estimated to be about 7.8 percent, that are set to hit a broad swath of domestic and military programs—including most programs in the U.S. Department of Education—early next year unless Congress acts to avert them.

Romney has said that if he's elected, he'd like Congress to come up with a short-term deal on the cuts so that he can help lawmakers come up with a long-term plan for the nation's fiscal future once he takes office in January. Romney had already endorsed Ryan's budget before picking him as his running mate. But by making Ryan his veep choice, Romney is sending a major signal about where he'd like those budget talks to go.

When it comes to K-12 policy, Ryan, like most GOP lawmakers, favors a big step back from the current federal accountability system at the center of the No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, he's a co-sponsor of the A-Plus Act, which would allow states to opt out of many of the mandates of the NCLB law, as long as they agree to show student achievement gains.

And one of Ryan's early gigs was working as a speech writer for Bill Bennett, who served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan. Bennett was a big supporter of school choice and rigorous standards. He often clashed with the teachers' unions and others —but back in 1988, Bennett won praise from then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton for his support of accountability.
The National Education Association, a 3-million-member union, is none-too-happy with Romney's choice.

"By selecting Ryan, Romney has doubled down on his view that opportunity is only for those who can afford it or are willing to game the system," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a statement released this morning.

But Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, applauded the pick. He said in an interview this morning that throughout the campaign, Romney has gotten flack from conservatives for simply being the anti-Obama and not being specific enough about what he would do. But picking Ryan as a vice-presidential nominee represents "a forceful embrace of principled conservative [positions] on fiscal responsibility, spending cuts and tax reform," said Hess, who blogs for at Rick Hess Straight Up.

Here are some of Ryan’s education votes and views from the Answer Sheet:

* Voted in 2012 for a measure that sought to stop the Education Department from implementing regulations intended to stop deceptive marketing by for-profit colleges, the focus of a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation.
* Voted repeatedly against increasing Pell Grants, which provide need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to post-secondary education.
* Voted in 2011 to extend federal funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher system that gives low-income students federal money to attend private schools.
Critics say that vouchers are essentially part of a campaign to privatize public education. Here’s what Robert J. Samuelson wrote about vouchers, in a different context, in a Post column in March:
One long-standing proposal to overhaul Medicare would transform it into a voucher program. Eligible seniors would receive a fixed amount of money (the voucher) that could be used to buy insurance coverage; they could choose among many different insurance plans. The theory is that competition among plans would lower costs and raise quality because Medicare beneficiaries would select plans that offered the best value for money. Vouchers are popular among Republicans, though some Democratic politicians and economists also support them. For example, a voucher proposal is a centerpiece of the budget plans offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee.... Vouchers wouldn’t “privatize Medicare.” The reason is simple: Medicare has always been “privatized.”
* Voted against the conference report of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included billions of dollars to help prevent widespread teacher layoffs and included $1 billion to support the early childhood program Head Start.
 This from the Huffington Post:
It remains uncertain whether Ryan on the ticket will influence the state-by-state race to reach the 270 Electoral Votes needed to claim the White House.

Democrats say Romney's embrace of Ryan, the architect of a controversial long-term budget plan remaking Medicare and cutting trillions in federal spending, could open the door for Obama with older voters in battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Republicans say Ryan could help put Wisconsin, which traditionally has voted Democratic in presidential campaigns, in play and that the Catholic Midwesterner also could appeal to blue-collar voters that Romney, a Mormon and multimillionaire, has struggled to reach in Iowa and elsewhere.
The campaigners have three months to make their case, with the national party conventions coming in just weeks and the series of presidential debates scheduled for October.
 This from Inside Higher Education:
Ryan has spoken (well before being considered for vice president) against more spending on student aid. In a video interview with Reason magazine, he said that Obama's spending on student aid imposed unreasonable costs on the public, and represented "new unfunded liabilities."
Romney had spoken in the past of his support for Ryan’s budget plan -- at one point calling it “marvelous.” But his choice of the Wisconsin Republican as a running mate indicates an endorsement of education cuts deeper than those Romney himself has proposed so far. In a recent appearance at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, one of Romney's education advisers said the candidate would eliminate or consolidate several grant programs and supported a return to bank-based student lending, which would actually cost the federal government money.

And at least so far, Romney has deviated occasionally from the Ryan plan, including agreeing with President Obama that interest rates on subsidized student loans should not increase to 6.8 percent this year, as the plan prescribed. (Ryan, too, eventually went along with a bipartisan proposal to stop the interest rate from doubling.)

But the presumptive nominee has not called for anything like Ryan’s wholesale restructuring of federal financial aid programs. In addition to tightening eligibility for the Pell Grant and setting a “sustainable” maximum for the program, Ryan’s proposal would undo the recent expansion of income-based repayment on student loans and eliminate subsidized loans for undergraduates -- transforming the federal financial aid programs into a Pell Grant aimed at a smaller number of needy students and offering unsubsidized loans (which have an interest rate of 6.8 percent) to everyone else.

Ryan’s budget proposal would also cut off federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. And much of the nation’s funding for scientific research, including the National Institutes of Health, would come in for cuts as well as part of broader cuts in discretionary spending. Those cuts, as well as cuts to Medicaid and a transformation of Medicare into a voucher program, raised alarms at the Association of American Medical Colleges last spring.

Though Ryan’s budget could have far-reaching consequences for higher education, and his 14 years in Congress have included plenty of votes affecting the sector, he’s rarely spoken on his views on colleges and universities. Early in his career, during the Reagan administration, Ryan worked as a speechwriter for Education Secretary William J. Bennett -- who frequently and publicly criticized colleges and universities -- and now subscribes to Bennett’s argument that federal financial aid leads to higher tuition costs.

Still, he has never overseen a state system of higher education (as Romney did in Massachusetts) or emphasized the role colleges play in society (as did Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich, who spoke frequently of the value of scientific research, and Rick Santorum, who accused Obama of being a "snob" for encouraging college attendance). Ryan's district, a slice of southern Wisconsin, includes relatively few of the state’s 85 colleges, and Ryan did not pursue federal earmarks for those institutions even before the House put a moratorium on the practice. And Ryan, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio, has spent less time in academe than anyone else in the presidential race: Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both have law degrees; Romney has both a law degree and an M.B.A. An article in The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted friends and former professors of Ryan's as saying that he was a serious undergraduate with a strong interest in economics.

Ryan does hold strong views on at least one legislative issue (other than the budget) with consequences for higher education: stem-cell research. He’s voted several times to block federal funding for research involving embryonic stem cells.

In 2010, Ryan and other members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, raising pointed questions about the “gainful employment” regulation, which ties for-profit colleges' eligibility for financial aid programs to their students’ ability to pay back loans. On Sunday, his first full day of campaigning for the office, Ryan will join Romney at rallies in North Carolina -- including one at a for-profit college, the NASCAR Technical Institute.
Paul Ryan's Education votes from On The Issues:
And Civil Rights Votes:

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