Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Education and Spending in Last Night's Debate

In Tuesday night’s town-hall debate at Belmont University, Barack Obama and John McCain spent much of the 90-minute event discussing the nation’s economic turmoil, government reform, and energy, tax, health-care, and foreign policies. But the presidential candidates did touch on spending and policy issues that would affect higher education.

Senator Obama spoke about making college affordability a priority even as he would rein in government spending in other areas. Senator McCain focused on eliminating spending he considers wasteful, including federal earmarks that often benefit college projects, and advocated an across-the-board freeze in federal spending.

When responding to a question by the debate’s moderator, Tom Brokaw, about how he would prioritize the issues of energy, health care, and entitlement reform, Senator Obama said energy would be his top priority, health care would be his second, and education his third. Education, the Democratic nominee said, has to be near the top of the list so the nation can help young people be competitive in the global economy.

In response to a separate question about what sacrifices he would ask the American people to make to help fix the economy and improve the nation, Senator Obama said he would seek incentives to decrease energy consumption and also to encourage volunteerism (including by doubling the ranks of the Peace Corps), something he said he found young people to be especially interested in.

Senator Obama also said that the federal government needed to cut spending, but he singled out efforts to improve college affordability as an area where spending should be increased and not decreased. Citing his own past, and his ability to attend college with the help of scholarships, he said the American dream seemed to be diminishing, in part because young people “who’ve got the grades and the will and the drive to go to college” don’t attend because they don’t have the money.

Senator McCain, meanwhile, focused on reining in government spending by eliminating earmarks — spending that individual lawmakers allocate on a noncompetitive basis to colleges and other entities — and by freezing most federal spending. The areas he singled out as exceptions that might receive more government support were defense and veterans affairs.

“Obviously we’ve got to stop the spending spree that’s going on in Washington,” the Republican candidate said, adding that he wanted to reduce the debt that is being left to young people.

(This item was crossposted from The Chronicle of Higher Education's Campaign U. blog.)

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