House Republicans Attempt To Game Budget Rules To Force Pell Grant Cuts

House Republicans have tried over and over again to cut the Pell Grant program, which provides higher education grants to low- and middle-income students. Though the grants are not even keeping up with the ever-climbing cost of tuition, Republicans have repeatedly tried to take an axe to the program, with the latest example being a budget bill that would cause 1 million students to lose their access to Pell entirely.

But their straightforward attempts to reduce Pell have not gotten through the Senate, so the House GOP is now talking an alternative route — gaming the budget process to force cuts in the program. As Stephen Steigleder and Julie Margetta Morgan noted, House Republicans are trying to unilaterally change the budget scoring rules used for the Pell Grant program to make it look like the program has a large shortfall, thus necessitating giant cuts:

According to existing Pell scoring rules, Congress is required to enact sufficient funding to cover the full cost of Pell Grants for the upcoming award year — in this case, award year 2012-2013 — along with any funding shortfall incurred in prior years. […]

But the House Budget Committee is blatantly ignoring the Pell scoring rule and threatening to substitute its own partisan analysis. The committee claims that all budget authority for Pell Grants in award year 2012‑2013 must originate in fiscal year 2012. The committee’s flawed interpretation of Pell scoring rules would exclude $896 million in savings from fiscal year 2013—even though savings from fiscal year 2013 would accrue at the same time Pell Grant funding is expended in award year 2012-2013.

Put simply, the House Budget Committee is inventing new rules as it goes along. The committee is trying to change the Pell scoring rule to exclude $896 million in legitimate offsets—thereby forcing Congress to cut an equal amount of funding from the Pell Grant program.

Looking at the calendar for both the government’s fiscal year and the Pell Grant award year, it’s clear that the GOP’s claim that all funding for Pell’s 2012-2013 year must come from 2012 is nonsensical. In fact, large portions of the 2012-2013 Pell awards will have to be paid out right in the midst of the government’s 2013 fiscal year, making the 2013 budget an entirely appropriate place to budget for them:

In short, there is no reason for the GOP to force all of the offsets for the 2012-2013 Pell program to come from the 2012 budget, other than their desire to make it look like Pell has a huge shortfall and needs to be scaled back. But with college debt heading towards record heights and America’s educational attainment beginning to trail other nations, there is no excuse for cutting aid to students.