The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) is expected to head to the full House of Representatives for a vote tomorrow, and as it does there is yet another Congressional Budget Office estimate upping its expected cost. The bill that sponsor George Miller (D-CA) shamelessly says will be a taxpayer-money saver continues to be exposed as very much the opposite.
As you might recall, Miller has been touting SAFRA as legislation that would fund all kinds of new or expanded federal programs while allocating $10 billion to deficit reduction. But the CBO has never agreed with that. First, the CBO identified a likely net cost to taxpayers of about $6 billion over ten years, and that was without including any deficit reduction. Then it estimated that SAFRA would cost an additional $33 billion after accounting for lending risk. And now, CBO estimates that the cost of expanding Pell grants could be almost $11 billion greater than originally estimated. If you add all of those things together, the cost of SAFRA has flipped from a promised $10 billion savings to a $50 billion loss.
In fairness, the last estimate comes from a change in the baseline used for Pell outlays, going from March to August 2009. The increased cost estimate could very well reflect a higher-than-usual Pell expense because of the economic downturn, and the additional cost would not materialize if and when things improve. Nonetheless, this just adds to a very clear message about SAFRA: Far from relieving taxpayers, it’s going to deliver yet one more punishing blow.