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In a sign that the financial downturn that ravaged the economy has taken no prisoners, a recently proposed federal spending bill outlined heavy cuts to various educational institutions.

Under the proposed spending bill presented by Republicans in the House of Representatives for the rest of fiscal year 2011, the Pell Grant program — which gives need-based grant money to low-income students — would undergo a hefty trim.

According to the text of the bill, the maximum amount a student would be eligible for would be $4015 in the 2011-2012 award year, down from $5,550, the current maximum amount.

During the 2010 midterm election campaign, Republicans “made a commitment to cut $100 billion in spending, and they’re finding now that it’s not an easy thing to do,” Penn’s Associate Vice President of Federal Relations Bill Andresen said.

President Barack Obama, who unveiled his budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year on Tuesday, takes a different road. His administration’s “Pell Grant Protection Act” seeks to stabilize the maximum amount of Pell Grant money a student can receive, and eventually increase it to $5,975 by 2017.

Under Obama’s proposal, some aspects of the Pell Grant program — namely, the provisions that allow students to benefit from the grant year-round and that provide graduate students with interest subsidies — would be eliminated.

These cuts to the program would help create additional funds destined to sustain the maximum award amount of the program.

Eleven percent of undergraduates at Penn currently receive Pell Grants, according to U.S. News and World Report. Penn is in sixteenth place among national universities with the most Pell Grant recipients.

The Republican proposal also poses significant funding cuts to science research institutions like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

“It’s certainly conceivable that Penn researchers and faculty could lose federal grants or not have those grants renewed,” Andresen said.

In a conference call with college newspapers, White House Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes said that Obama views “any efforts to undermine our ability to help our students as a threat to our ability to out-educate the rest of the world.”

Kalpen Modi, a former lecturer at Penn and current associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement, said Obama’s budget proposal “puts the country on a path to living within our means.”

Engineering junior and College Republicans president Peter Terpeluk thinks that the proposed cuts by Republicans signal a shift towards a national dialogue more open to considering reducing spending.

“It’s important that at least the option is put out there … it’s unfortunate if even the idea of doing it is immediately declined,” Terpeluk said.

“As young people, it may be hard to see down the line, but the amount of national debt our generation is going to have to pay is growing and hopefully we’re going to view politicians [that have] the audacity to cut anything with more foresight.”

Andresen doesn’t believe that either proposal, in its current form, will become law.

“Congress is not going to pass the president’s budget, and House Republicans also know that in whatever form [the Republican proposal] comes out of the House, it’s unlikely to pass,” Andresen said.

“At some point, the administration, Republicans and Democrats are going to have to sit down and come to some kind of agreement,” he added.

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