Grant increase:a step in the right direction?

By Gus Bode

Many students spend more than the proposed per-year increase on books in a single semester

Aggressive budget. Andrew Card:”The discipline will be there big-time.” $13 billion to state and local governments for homeland security.

President Bush has proposed a budget described by budget and appropriations committee aides as “aggressive.” Quoted in the Washington Post, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, said the budget would impose “very, very strong discipline. That discipline will be there big-time.”

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Such language may cause some of the profligate spenders in Congress to gasp in shock and awe, but they probably need to pause for breath anyway after converting a surplus to a record deficit in only four years. Still, it’s easy to understand their surprise – Bush has yet to veto a spending bill.

When the budget is presented on Feb. 7, the ax will be poised over many entitlement programs. The Bush administration wants to curtail the automatic growth of these programs as part of an effort to reduce the budget by half over four years.

But the Bush budget isn’t all discipline, aggression and belt-tightening. It calls for a 12 percent increase in Pell Grant funding, as well as a maximum-award increase of $100 per year each year through 2010. That’s good news for students, who will certainly welcome any extra financial aid.

But how does Bush plan to finance such largesse? In addition to cutting entitlements, the budget will force higher co-payments and deductibles for health care to veterans, while tightening their benefit eligibility requirements. Spending on science and agriculture is expected to shrink considerably. Housing programs will be frozen.

Homeland Security spending will increase substantially, however. The White House Web site points out that since 2001, $13 billion has been provided to state and local governments to enable them to protect their citizens. This trend will continue, no doubt to the relief of Washington, D.C., who got stuck with the bill for security during Bush’s inauguration.

The priorities seem muddled. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R- N.H., said the “thematic focus” of the budget is reducing the deficit. The White House Web site declares Homeland Security to be the priority. Those two goals don’t seem compatible.

But we’re just glad to be in there somewhere. An extra $500 per year for those of us still in school in 2010? Many of us in school right now spend more than that on books in a single semester. Thanks, Mr. President. You shouldn’t have.

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