If you live in Minnesota’s politically competitive 8th Congressional District, get used to seeing a lot of campaign ads in the race between Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack and his DFL challenger Rick Nolan.
In the latest round of spots launched this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) takes aim at Cravaack’s record on education policy.
“Cravaack voted to cut Pell Grants for 23,000 Minnesota college students. He voted to cut overall education funding by $115 billion. And Cravaack supported eliminating the Department of Education,” the “Tradition” ad states.
The DCCC’s spot mixes truth and fiction.
The point of the DCCC’s ad is to paint Cravaack as out of touch with Minnesota’s educational tradition.
The first part of the ad’s claim about Pell Grants refers to U.S. House Budget Committee chairman and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s fiscal year 2012 budget resolution. The document isn’t legally binding. It’s a broad blueprint for how Congress should spend cash. It’s up to the appropriations committees that decide where to put the money.
Pell Grants are meant for low-income college students. Prior to the passage of the 2009 stimulus bill, grants were capped at $4,731, according to the New America Foundation. The stimulus bill increased that cap to $5,550. But Ryan’s fiscal year 2012 budget resolution stated that the grants be returned to their “pre-stimulus levels” to curb rising inflation and it included a series of new eligibility limits.
The Department of Education estimated that such changes would cut aid for 1.4 million students including 23,755 Minnesota students.
The GOP’s budget resolution stalled in the Senate. As part of a massive funding bill for multiple federal departments, both chambers ultimately agreed to maintain current Pell Grant caps but require new eligibility limits, too. Cravaack voted against that measure.
Cravaack’s spokesman, Michael Bars, said that Cravaack has protected Pell Grants by voting to make the program more sustainable.
“The program must be put on more stable footing,” wrote Bars in an email. “Currently, the program is on an unsustainable trajectory that serves only to put the program at greater risk of ultimately being unable to fulfill its promises to students.”
In 2012, Cravaack also voted in favor of his party’s fiscal year 2013 budget resolution. It included $897 billion in unspecified cuts in domestic spending.
So, how did the DCCC come up with $115 billion cut to the Department of Education?
The number is from the White House, and it’s speculative. The Office of Management and Budget assumed that the cuts were spread equally across all areas of the budget, which would mean $115 billion less in funding for the Department of Education over 10 years.
But that’s not what Cravaack voted for, as the ad states. He voted for a measure than included $897 billion in unspecified cuts. Right now, the House and Senate are hashing out a deal to keep the government funded through next March. That bill, which Cravaack also voted for, doesn’t cut education department funding.
It’s true that Cravaack said he wanted to eliminate the Department of Education. In a 2010 interview with Sue Jeffers, an activist involved in Republican politics, Cravaack said:
“I do not see a place for the Department of Education. All the Department of Education does is redistribute the wealth that we give the government and then takes a nice little chunk for itself and then passes it on to our schools. We eliminate the Department of Education, it is a states’ issue. The states are in charge of the education.”
The DCCC’s has some truth to it. It’s accurate to say that Cravaack voted to cut scale back Pell Grants, which would have meant roughly 23,000 Minnesotans could have lost their funding. And it’s also true that Cravaack said he wanted to eliminate the Department of Education.
But the ad’s second claim that Cravaack voted to cut education department funding by $115 billion is false. That’s a speculative number from the White House.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “Tradition”, 9.14.12
Department of Education, Pell Grants, accessed Sept. 21, 2012
THOMAS, H Con Res 34, fiscal year 2012 budget resolution, May 2, 2011
THOMAS, roll call vote on H Con Res 34, April 15, 2011
THOMAS, roll call vote on HR 2055, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, Dec. 16, 2011
THOMAS, roll call vote on H Con Res 112, fiscal year 2013 budget resolution, March 29, 2012
THOMAS, H. J. Res. 117, Six month continuing resolution, accessed Sept. 20, 2012
THOMAS, roll call vote H. J. Res 117, Sept. 13, 2012
The New America Foundation, Revisiting Ryan Versus Obama on Pell Grants, by Jason Delisle, Aug. 14, 2012
The New America Foundation, Congress Reaches Pell Grant Funding Agreement for Fiscal Year 2012, by Jason Delisle, Dec. 13, 2011
House Budget Committee, Strengthening the Social Safety Net, accessed Sept. 21, 2012
NASFAA, House GOP FY2012 Budget Outline Would Deny Pell Grants to 1.4M Students, April 20, 2011
Education and Workforce Committee, New Data: Pell Grant Program By State: Current Maximum vs. GOP Budget, accessed Sept. 20, 2012
NASFAA, Summary of Student Aid Changes in FY 2012 Budget Bill, Dec. 16, 2011
The White House, Office of Management and Budget, The Ryan-Republican Budget: The Consequences of Imbalance, March 21, 2012
Libertarian Party of Minnesota, Cravaack interview with Sue Jeffers, March 12, 2010
Email exchange, Haley Morris, spokesperson for the DCCC, Sept. 20, 2012
Email exchange, Michael Bars, spokesman, Rep. Chip Cravaack, Sept. 21, 2012