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December 7, 2012

Education Lobby Spending Millions to Block Budget Cuts

By Eric Pianin and Brianna Ehley

Cross-posted and adapted from The Fiscal Times

With at least $16 billion in federal funds and grants at stake next year if the government goes over the fiscal cliff, the nation's universities and primary and secondary education systems are waging an unprecedented lobbying effort of more than $67 million to protect those funds from automatic cuts set to take effect in January.

College presidents, governors, state officials, labor unions and education advocates are working feverishly to rally support among lawmakers and the Obama administration to protect education from the budget knife.

Of the 421 groups that hired lobbyists this year to work against the more than $100 billion of looming spending cuts in domestic and defense programs, 91 are education groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group. By comparison, just 26 organizations have lobbied against sequestration on behalf of the defense industry.

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"We just sent a letter to the California delegation urging Congress to protect our students and facilities from these cuts that could have very serious consequences and broad impact on the university and even the entire country," said Chris Harrington, a spokesman for the University of California. Under the sequester mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, more than $335 million in federal funding for UC research would be lost in fiscal year  2013 alone.

This year, the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country, spent $5,418,627 on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and it asked its more than 3 million members to urge members of Congress to spare education from devastating cuts.

The American Federation of Teachers spent more than $1 million lobbying Congress this year, according to the center, and has been a very active voice against the massive budget belt-tightening set for next year.

"Sequestration would result in dangerous consequences for healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid cuts would threaten patient access to healthcare, and we would see the loss of hundreds of thousands of nursing and other healthcare-related jobs," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

Preparing for Doomsday

Meanwhile, more than 100 school boards already have passed resolutions urging members of Congress to stop sequestration. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has asked school boards to pass a resolution, write letters to local newspapers and take actions to publicize  the plight of schools.

While the media has focused largely on the likely impact of more than $50 billion of across-the-board cuts in defense programs and contracts scheduled to take effect next year, domestic programs will take an equally big hit. If sequestration takes hold, education funding will be subject to cuts ranging from a high of 9.1 percent in 2013 to 5.5 percent in 2021, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

An estimated $12.1 billion reduction would severely cut research and development programs at the NIH, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Foundation, and 62 major public and private colleges and universities that do advanced research

President Obama and congressional leaders are eager to cancel sequestration, but that won't be possible unless the President and  Republicans reach an accord on a long-term plan for deficit reduction and entitlement and tax reform.

Many college and university presidents say they understand the importance of getting the country on a sustainable course of spending and deficit reduction, but that educational and research programs have already been feeling the squeeze and need to be protected from future deep cuts. 

"Our feeling is that [sequestration] would be a real disaster for the U.S. research enterprise because we've already been facing over the last several years certainly a decline in spending in real terms,"  Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs at the American Association of Universities said.  "This is at a time when other countries are pouring resources into higher education and research. If we get ourselves on a permanent track of decline, we're going to lose our role as a global leader."




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