But such a freeze could one day put public education advocates in the middle of a fierce political battle to protect federal education spending.
So warned Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, during a Sunday session of NSBA’s Federal Relations Network Conference in Washington, D.C.
Many of his remarks to conference attendees dealt with the political realities facing federal policymakers. He also offered an explanation of the current budgetary challenges facing them.
But near the end of his remarks, he pointed out the potential implications of Obama’s idea of a spending freeze after the next fiscal year.
Such a budget freeze isn’t going to curb spending in defense, homeland security, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and a number of other protected federal programs, he said. So “you’re creating a fiscal zero-sum game with everything else.”
In a worst-case scenario, a freeze means school board members lobbying Congress not only will need “to make the case for how to build a first-class education system, you’re going [to need] to start making the case why we should be doing that in lieu of other priorities.”
The fight for a slice of the budget pie, Ornstein said, could be all the more challenging in the dysfunctional political environment stymieing fiscal restraint on Capitol Hill today.
The ideological divide in the nation and between political parties already is discouraging compromise and bipartisanship, he said. Conservatives are threatening a primary election challenge against Republican lawmakers who even consider tax increases, while Democrats face a similar risk from liberals if they talk of program spending cuts.
Indeed, much of the political posturing of the past year in Washington, D.C., has been about “struggling to figure out how we can act responsibly … when the incentive for political figures is not to bring short-term pain for long-term gains.”
Whether there’s a way out of this gridlock remains to be seen, Ornstein said. But political leaders know that, among voters, “there is a great desire to get beyond this partisanship … to get things done.”
Congressman George Miller, D-Calif., commented on Ornstein’s idea at his blog, EdLabor Journal.
Del Stover, Senior Editor