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Obama's proposed budget spending freeze sparks concern, guesswork

But a domestic spending freeze may complicate Obama's efforts to expand grants for innovations such as charter schools and teacher performance pay. Congress is heavily committed to distributing billions of dollars each year through formulas to help states pay for special education and programs for disadvantaged students. In addition, federal stimulus aid is tailing off even as states face mounting budget shortfalls.

"If there's no more federal money, it starts becoming extremely difficult to achieve all these far-reaching, important reforms the administration wants to accomplish," said Joel Packer, director of the Committee for Education Funding, which represents dozens of education groups.

Federal education officials were sanguine. "When the proposed budget is released on Monday, it will show that education remains a high priority for the administration," said Assistant Education Secretary Peter Cunningham.

There's still the stimulus

Some advocates took comfort in the fact that stimulus money will continue flowing, no matter what the budget holds.

But John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, said that as beneficial as the $10 billion in stimulus funding for the National Institutes of Health has been, flat funding in the regular budget would hurt.

"The whole issue with cancer research is that it has to be a sustainable, uninterrupted level of support," he said.

A freeze could exacerbate the severe fiscal difficulties confronting many cities and states. States and municipalities rely on dozens of discretionary programs, such as public housing subsidies and community block grants. "This is not something that state budgets are in a position to just roll with," said Marcia Howard, director of Federal Funds Information for States. "It will be jarring."

Food-safety advocates worry that it would set back efforts to improve inspections at the Food and Drug Administration and at the Department of Agriculture.

But other advocates and lobbyists had less to worry about, given that their funding streams are not considered discretionary. Pat Wolff, a budget specialist with the Farm Bureau, said the organization is not worried about cuts in agriculture subsidies, since most payments to farmers are entitlements.

"Many farmers in this country are in crisis," she said. "It's not the time to even be thinking about cutting back."

Staff writers Nick Anderson, Spencer S. Hsu and Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.

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