President Obama tabbed $8 billion in his new budget for online and in-person job training programs at community colleges in a move that Education Secretary Arne Duncan says will fill open workforce positions during a time of stubbornly high unemployment.
The budget that Obama is sending to Congress aims to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade by restraining government spending and raising taxes on the wealthy. To help a weak economy, Obama’s proposal requests increases in transportation, education, and other areas.
A key component of the community college plan would institute “pay for performance” in job training, meaning there would be financial incentives to ensure that trainees find permanent jobs — particularly for programs that place individuals facing the greatest hurdles getting work.
It also would promote training of entrepreneurs, provide grants for state and local government to recruit companies, and support paid internships for low-income community college students.
“These investments will give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers where people learn crucial skills that local businesses are looking for right now, ensuring that employers have the skilled workforce they need and workers are gaining industry-recognized credentials to build strong careers,” the White House said in a statement.
Duncan said supporting community colleges’ capacity to train workers without a college degree and “align[ing] job training programs to better meet need of employers” would draw businesses to regions of the country with newly qualified applicants.
“We simply lack the programs to fill these jobs,” Duncan said, adding that the White House aims to “educate our way to a better economy.”
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said critics of the Community College to Career Fund were “shortsighted and wrong” as Congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates came out against Obama’s proposal after he unveiled the budget at Northern Virginia Community College.
As costs at four-year colleges have soared, enrollments at community colleges have increased by 25 percent during the last decade and now top more than 6 million students, according to the American Institutes for Research.
People with a one-year certificate or two-year degree in certain career fields can earn higher salaries than those with a traditional college degree, said Anthony Carnevale, director of the center at Georgetown University.
Mark Schneider, the former U.S. commissioner of education statistics who now serves as vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said there’s no doubt that high-tech companies need skilled workers. But he said there are challenges with leaning heavily on community colleges.
Many students enter community colleges lacking math skills. The sophisticated equipment needed for training is expensive, and there’s little known about the effectiveness of individual community colleges programs across the country, he said.
“We need measures of how well they are training their students, how well their students are being placed in the job market, and … are they making money?” Schneider said. “We need to track that really, really carefully. And, we need to make all that information available to students before they sign on … and before taxpayers subsidize all of this.”
Obama’s budget will likely be harangued by House and Senate Republicans, but the funding for community college job programs might have a chance for bipartisan support, wrote Jennifer Wheary, a blogger for the website Policy Shop, which analyzes state and federal legislative proposals.
“In a highly contentious election year there is no way that Republicans can react warmly to Obama’s budget,” Wheary wrote. “Still, everyone’s focus on college affordability, and the accurate perception that community colleges can be cost-effective generators of opportunity hopefully will bode well for this particular provision.”
While administration officials on Feb. 12 defended the plan as a balanced approach, Republicans belittled the effort as a repeat of failed policies that did too little to attack soaring costs in such programs as Medicare and threatened growth by raising taxes.
The debate is almost certain to go all the way to Election Day in November with gridlock keeping Congress from resolving many pressing issues on expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts until a lame-duck session at year’s end.
Obama’s spending blueprint for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 projects a deficit for this year of $1.33 trillion. That would mean four straight years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits.
The budget will project a decline in the deficit to $901 billion in 2013 and continued improvements shrinking the deficit to $575 billion in 2018.
Republicans said Obama’s plan was a stark reminder that the Democratic president had failed to meet the pledge he made after taking office in 2009 to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term.
But Jacob Lew, Obama’s chief of staff, said the administration had to contend with a deep recession and soaring unemployment that had driven the deficits higher than anyone anticipated.
He said Obama’s plan would cut the deficit below 3 percent by 2018, to levels that economists generally view as sustainable.
He said faster deficit cuts now would set back an economy still struggling with high unemployment. Lew, Obama’s former budget chief, also said it was critical that Congress agree to extend a payroll tax cut due to expire at the end of February.
Failure to extend it, he said, would cause another hit to the economy.
“I think there is pretty broad agreement that the time for austerity is not today,” Lew said during a series of appearances on Sunday talk shows. “Right now we have an economy that’s taking root … austerity measures right now would take the economy in the wrong way.”
House Republicans are preparing their version of Obama’s budget that will propose sharper reductions in government entitlement programs such as Medicare while avoiding any tax increases.
“We’re taking responsibility for the drivers of our debt,” said the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “So when the dust settles and people see actually what we’re doing, how we’re promoting bipartisan solutions.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Senate Democrats did not want to vote on Obama’s spending plan, so he would once again put it forward for a Senate vote where he predicted it would fail as it did last year.
Lew blamed House Republicans for pushing extreme measures rather than trying to reach consensus with Democrats and avoid the kinds of last-minute crises that roiled financial markets in 2011, such as the summer showdown over raising the government’s borrowing limit.
“Congress didn’t do a great job last year. It drove right to the edge of the cliff on occasion after occasion,” Lew said. “A lot of that was because of the extreme conservative approach taken by House Republicans.”
According to a White House fact sheet, Obama’s budget will adhere closely to the approach he outlined in September in a submission to the congressional “supercommittee” that failed to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in additional spending cuts to keep across-the-board cuts from taking effect next January.
The Obama budget sticks to the caps on annual appropriations approved in August that will save $1 trillion over the next decade. It also puts forward $1.5 trillion in new taxes, primarily by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of this year for families making $250,000 or more per year.
Obama, as he has in the past, also proposed eliminating tax deductions the wealthy receive and would also put in place a rule named for billionaire Warren Buffett that would seek to make sure that households making more than $1 million annually pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
Obama would also impose a new $61 billion tax over 10 years on big banks aimed at recovering the costs of the financial bailout and providing money to help homeowners facing foreclosure on their homes.
It would raise $41 billion over 10 years by eliminating tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies and claims significant savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lew said the budget would cut spending by $2.50 for every $1 in extra taxes it seeks.
“In the long run, we need to get the deficit under control in a way that builds the economy,” Lew said. “We do it in a way that’s consistent with American values so that everyone pays a fair share.”
Among the areas targeted for increases, Obama is proposing $476 billion in increased spending on transportation projects including efforts to expand inner-city rail services.
To spur job creation in the short-term, Obama is proposing a $50 billion “upfront” investment for transportation, $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 schools and $30 billion to help states hire teachers and fire, rescue and police.
Republicans in Congress, opposed to further stimulus spending, have blocked these efforts.
The Obama budget seeks $360 billion in savings in Medicare and Medicaid mainly through reduced payments to health care providers, avoiding tougher measures advocated by House Republicans and the deficit commissions that said restraining health care costs will be critical in the future.
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