When President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, he committed our nation to a budget-cutting process that may well be cumbersome. The "Supercommittee", or the Joint Select Committee on Budget Reduction, has a hard time line of November 23 to propose some $1.5 trillion in cuts. If Congress does not pass the Supercommittee proposals, then an automatic trigger will cut the budget across the board by about 9 percent.
I suppose the thinking behind creating the Supercommittee, composed of 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans, is that 12 minds are better than 535. The size of the committee may also make it easier for lobbyists! According to Politico, more than 200 lobbyists are pressuring Supercommittee members to protect their interests.
Who will protect the interests of young people, especially those who attend HBCUs? Already, students have been hard hit by budget machinations. Beginning July 1, 2012, students will no longer receive an interest subsidy on their undergraduate and graduate student loans. Before now, while studying, student loans were interest-free, with interest kicking in only when they began repayment. No more. That will save about $18 billion in the nest decade, but at what cost? It is ironic that on one hand, president Obama wants our nation to again lead the world in the percentage of people who are college graduates, and at the same time, yet another hurdle is being imposed on those who want to go to college.
For now, it appears that the Pell grant of $5500 for low-income students remains intact. But the Supercommittee is looking for places to cut, and they are looking everywhere. Absent lobbyists, we will all have to lobby to protect the students who do not have the resources of the health care industry, legal associations, and those other 200 crowding Capital Hill. To be sure, many of the Supercommittee members are committed to education. South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn (D), for example, is the only Congressional Black Caucus member on the Supercommittee. He has long been a friend of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He is likely to find allies among other Democrats on the Supercommittee. But will they be able to withstand both the Republican zeal to reduce the size of government or the automatic triggers that will take place if the Supercommittee can't find compromise?
It is also likely that Title III funding, the funding that is specifically targeted to HBCUs, will be on the chopping block. Earlier this month several UNCF presidents met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to talk about ways that Title III money can be protected. Those who care about HBCUs must lobby not only CBC members and Congressional Representatives in areas where HBCUs are located, but also any and every voter, especially those on the Supercommittee. The Committee is Co-Chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), and includes Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), John Kyle (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Congressional representatives Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Fred Upton (R-MI) and David Camp (R-MI).
When you scour the headlines, you won't find much written about the Supercommittee, even though they are in the throes of meetings and negotiations. We can expect Democrats to protect entitlements and Republicans to resist tax increases, and these are sure ingredients for an impasse. When the Supercommittee was formed critics from both the left and the right talked about the possibility of it deadlocking, as in order to attain a simple majority, somebody will have to cross party lines. And the last time we faced a budget impasse, we ended up with a reduction in our Standard and Poors rating from AAA to AA+. When it cut our nation's rating, S&P said their prognosis for the long-term fiscal health of the United States was "poor".
The Supercommittee may well be out of the news, but it should not be off our radar screen. The dozen members are making decisions that will have long-term consequences. They may well decide to tackle aspects of our tax structure, and they will certainly decide to cut some, if not all, federal programs. We must all ensure that the Supercommittee will not reduce the deficit on the backs of the poor and the powerless, especially our students.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.