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The “Big” Freeze

Tonight, at 9 p.m., President Obama will be proposing a spending freeze on many domestic programs and departments in his first State of the Union address. Obama will also discuss his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2011, which begins in October, on Monday, Feb. 1. This freeze would reduce spending by between $10 billion and $15 billion if Congress approves the administration’s proposal. When President Obama proposed a spending reduction last year of $11.5 billion, Congress approved about three-fifths of it.

Obviously, the Obama Administration is proposing this spending freeze in large part because of the current economic situation, but considering the mounting deficit which is projected to reach $1.35 trillion this year, it is not going to be nearly enough of a reduction to make a significant difference.

Many republicans say that these cuts are not only insufficient, but that they are essentially a joke. Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House Minority Leader John Boehner, said, “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest.”

Democratic leaders on the other hand believe that the President’s support of a spending freeze would prove to the public that he can make tough decisions in tough times, and that this would pacify the current public belief that government spending is out of control. Many in Washington think that this belief may have contributed to the loss of the previously Democratic Massachusetts Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown last week.

This spending freeze, if approved, will last three years, but should produce an estimated savings of $250 billion over 10 years. Two hundred fifty billion seems like a lot of money, but compared with the additional $9 trillion the government is expected to add to the deficit over the next 10 years, it’s chump change.

Certain spending like security and defense spending, foreign aid, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will all be exempt from the freeze. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, together, make up the largest part of the current federal budget. These entitlement programs are only growing as the aging Baby Boomers reach retirement and as the number of people in need of assistance grows in the current recession.

This is the fastest growing part of the federal budget, and many people believe it will likely increase if the Health Care Reform bill is passed as a result of the bill’s intention to create new systems and positions.

The President will announce tonight what the freeze will cover. However, at the moment we know that the programs and agencies that Congress annually allocates specific budgets for, such as air traffic control, farm subsidies, nutrition, national parks and most importantly, education, are up on the chopping block.

Knowing that education is covered under the same funding for domestic programs that will be frozen, cut, or eliminated is scary considering that Financial Aid Services here at UMass helped some 18,000 students attend school last year.

In addition, as a result of the recession, many of those who lost their jobs have returned to school in the hope that additional education will help them get a job when they return to the job market. Most of these new students need help paying for school now that they are unemployed, and so funding for education is particularly important to help these students stay in school.

So many of us are dependent on some kind of aid, mostly federal, in order to be able to afford to attend college, and the Obama Administration is aware of this. Because educational assistance affects so many people in this nation, based on information currently available, education will be a priority area for increased funding.

There is no area that the government could cut that wouldn’t negatively affect some people, but the President has made it clear that education, energy, the environment and healthcare are too important for society as a whole to cut any spending in these areas.

Some of the decreases in spending in other areas will be put toward increasing funding in these key areas. This is especially true for student loans and childcare, because they are so important for the middle class to stay on its feet in this recession.

It is the sincere hope of all students relying on financial assistance that education remains untouched and unfrozen.

Sara Crossman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at scrossma@student.umass.edu.

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