By Alexander Bolton
House conservatives who have stalled legislation to raise the national debt limit are angry that it includes $17 billion in supplemental spending for Pell Grants, which some compare to welfare.
Legislation crafted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the debt limit by $900 billion would directly appropriate $9 billion for Pell Grants in 2012 and another $8 billion in 2013.
This has shocked some conservative House freshmen who say they were elected to cut spending, not increase it. Some House Republicans think of it as being akin to welfare.
“I really don’t understand why we’re increasing spending in a bill supposed to be cutting spending,” said Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman Republican from Maryland. “It was negotiated without the input of a lot of members.”
Harris has indicated to The Baltimore Sun that he will vote no.
House Republican leaders say they included concessions to Democrats in efforts to forge a compromise that could pass both chambers.
“This is a compromise piece of legislation that was negotiated between the Speaker and the bipartisan leadership in the Senate,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters Thursday afternoon.
One major concession is the establishment of a select joint committee to assemble another deficit-reduction package later in the 112th Congress.
“The joint select committee is something that came from the Democrats. We don’t have all the cuts we like in this bill but we’re willing to compromise,” Cantor said.
The inclusion of the extra money for Pell Grants could cost Republican votes.
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has compared Pell Grants to “welfare”.
“So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” Rehberg told Blog Talk Radio in April. “You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”
Rehberg has not said how he will vote on Boehner’s bill.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has not revealed his position, said the Pell Grants have “been part of the discussion” among conservatives who are debating whether to support the bill.House GOP leaders postponed a vote on the plan Thursday evening because of opposition within their conference.
Funding Pell Grants has been a top priority for President Obama. In his 2012 budget blueprint, the president sought to preserve the maximum grant at nearly $5,550 a year.