As we have previously posted, the House is slated to consider HR 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act on Thursday of this week or tomorrow. Yesterday, Education Secretary Duncan all but endorsed the legislation. While the House Rules Committee has yet to meet and determine how to proceed and what amendments will be made in order on the legislation for consideration by the full House, the White House has just announced in a Statement of Administrative Policy (SAP) that the President veto the legislation as it currently stands.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared a comprehensive immigration reform bill late yesterday afternoon after a week of considering over 200 amendments. The bill, drafted by a bipartisan groups of Senators dubbed the ‘gang of eight’ would, among other things; expand the annual cap of H-1B visas to 110,000 from the existing cap of 65,000, raise the number of visas for foreign graduates with advanced degrees from U.S. universities that are exempt from the annual cap, and create a 13-year path to citizenship for nearly 11 million immigrants.
The bill will also create what is certain to be a controversial pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to become permanent legal residents a decade after they register with the government. Immigrants would be required to pay a $2,000 fine, pass a background check, have a job, and wait 10 years before applying for a green card. Three years after that, they could apply to become U.S. citizens. Dream Act youth – the term given to undocumented students advocating for permanent residency status, can obtain green cards in five years and citizenship immediately thereafter.
In exchange for the “pathway to citizenship” for many immigrants, conservatives demanded language in the bill that would call for billions of dollars to be spent on tightened security at the U.S.-Mexico border with a goal of apprehending 90 percent of those crossing the border in “high-risk” areas. But the whole process is contingent, at several points over a decade, on the government meeting certain border-security benchmarks.
The legislation now moves to the full Senate for debate and approval.
Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, testified before the House Committee on Education and Workforce today. During the hearing, House Chairman Klein specifically asked Secretary Duncan to clarify the Administration’s position on the student loan issue. The Republican attempted to elicit an endorsement from Duncan of their bill, HR 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, which is founded largely on a market-based rate proposal included in the president’s fiscal 2014 budget request. While Duncan stopped short of explicit endorsement, he in his response Duncan dismissed the the Senate Democrats’ short-term fix (S 953) to simply extend the current 3.4 percent interest rate. With a strongly worded response, Duncan advocated for a long-term, budget-neutral fix for student loans rather than a short-term fix.
“We are very interested in a long-term solution,” Duncan said. “The idea of coming back every two years to try and fix something, with all the real challenges we face, and the fact that we can’t take this off the table… I just don’t understand it. I look forward to working with you and others to find some common ground.”
HR 1911 is expected to be considered by the full House this Thursday.
The Senate and House continue to work though legislation that respective committees addressed last week.
The full Senate will consider the Farm Bill (S 954), which the Senate Agriculture Committee passed last week. The Farm Bill reauthorization , which would overhaul farm subsidies and food stamp programs, is expected to be considered by the Senate for the bulk of the floor action this week and again after the Memorial Day recess as well.
The full House is expected to consider and pass two bills passed by the House Education and Workforce Committee last week. First, HR 1949, the IPEDS Act is expected to pass on Wednesday of this week as a Suspension bill — or a bill that is considered a noncontroversial measure. Then, on Thursday, the House will consider HR 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act. This legislation would set interest rates on federal student loans to the 10-year Treasury note rate plus 2.5 percentage points for undergraduate loans and plus 4.5 percentage points for graduate loans as of July 1. Rates would be capped at 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, and the interest rates would be calculated yearly. Amendments are expected to be offered to the bill.
The Office of Federal Relations is monitoring both bills closely and will continue tracking their progress.
An overview of House and Senate Committee Hearings and Markups on the schedule this week.
TUESDAY, MAY 21st
FISCAL 2014 APPROPRIATIONS: 302(B) ALLOCATIONS
May 21, 11 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg
Full Committee Markup
House Education & the Workforce
FISCAL 2014 BUDGET: DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
May 21, 10 a.m., 2175 Rayburn Bldg
Full Committee Hearing
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22nd
2014 APPROPRIATIONS: DEFENSE
May 22, 10 a.m., 192 Dirksen Bldg
2014 APPROPRIATIONS: INTERIOR AND ENVIRONMENT
May 22, 9:30 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg
Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation
SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION NOMINATION
May 22, 2:30 p.m., 253 Russell Bldg
Full Committee Confirmation Hearing
IMMIGRATION MODERNIZATION ACT
May 22, 2 p.m., 2141 Rayburn Bldg
Full Committee Hearing
THURSDAY, MAY 23rd
2014 APPROPRIATIONS: AGRICULTURE, RURAL, FDA
May 23, 10 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg
Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation
SECRETARY OF COMMERCE NOMINATION
May 23, 11 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg
Full Committee Confirmation Hearing
Appropriations: This week, House appropriators are expected to approve a plan for writing FY14 spending bills that would make deep cuts in domestic programs in order to protect defense programs. The overall figure will adhere to the spending caps set by recent budget agreements and assumes the sequester will apply to FY14 without a larger agreement to cut the deficit. At question is how the overall amount will be divided between the 12 annual spending bills. The GOP approach makes it clear that they intend to preserve national security spending at the expense of domestic programs favored by Democrats.
The allocations provide a combined $625 billion in FY14 for the Defense, Military Construction-VA, and Homeland Security bills, which would be a cut of $4 billion, or less than one percent, from the current enacted level. Discretionary spending in the rest of the government — covered by the other nine spending bills, including the Labor-HHS-ED bill — would be cut by about $72 billion, or 17 percent, from current levels.
The Labor-HHS-ED bill would provide $121.8 billion, about $35 billion, or 22 percent, less than the current level. House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Hal Rogers (R-KY) has not ruled out increases in spending allocations if lawmakers can come to a broad budget accord to reduce the deficit and replace the sequester. But for now, House Republicans appear to have adopted a strategy of back-loading the cuts on bills, such as Labor-HHS-Education, to buy them some time for possible negotiations.
Debt Ceiling: The debt ceiling increase debate is one issue that appears to be off table in budget negotiations. With the law suspending the ceiling on federal borrowing authority expiring over the weekend, on Friday Treasury Secretary Lew formally told lawmakers that Congress won’t need to raise the debt limit again until after Labor Day. When the legislation was approved earlier this year, it was assumed the debt limit would need to be increased by late spring or early summer. Lew reiterated the Administration’s pledge that it won’t negotiate with Congress over the debt ceiling, despite ongoing talks among Republican lawmakers aimed at a strategy of using the need to raise the debt limit as leverage in a broader debate over tax and spending policy.
Late yesterday, the House Republicans released new spending targets for FY14 appropriations bills. Under the GOP numbers, the Labor-HHS-ED bill will face a nearly 20 percent reduction on top of the cuts already made in the March 1st sequestration order. These programs would be capped at $121.8 billion — or about $28 billion below the best available estimates for post-sequestration appropriations. This represents $42 billion, or 26 percent, below what was enacted in FY10. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) appears to be scaling back spending for these programs, as well as for transportation, housing, environmental, and natural resources programs, in order to provide significant increases for a few of the 12 annual bills this summer. For example, Pentagon spending would rise to $512.5 billion, a roughly 6 percent increase over the reduced levels allowed under sequestration. We expect similar increases for Military-VA and Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), whose state is home to the NIH, pledged to work with the top senators on the Labor-HHS-ED subcommittee to ensure they get an appropriate allocation to fund these programs. The Democrat said she is “worried about the sequester’s effect on the people who work at NIH as well as extramural programs such as those run by universities.” Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the top Republican on the full committee, said he would work with Mikulski to try to increase funding for NIH in the face of the sequester. Other Senators also pledged their support for NIH funding, including Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) – top ranking members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. But despite the bipartisan support, there are still concerns that GOP priorities would prevent Congress from giving NIH the necessary funding resources.
The Office of Federal Relations continues to remind the Washington state delegation about the substantial fiscal impact NIH grant funding has on our economy. Please contact us if you have information that will help inform Members of Congress about the importance of NIH funding.
In what appears to be an ever escalating battle, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today officially refused to comply with a request to supply reviewer comments to five grants questioned by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman, Lamar Smith (R-TX).
On April 25th, Chairman Smith sent a letter to the NSF, which asked for an explanation by NSF as to how five grants adhered to NSF’s “intellectual merit” guidelines. The grants in question were:
- Award Abstract #1247824: “Picturing Animals in National Geographic, 1888-2008,” March 15, 2013, ($227,437);
- Award Abstract #1230911: “Comparative Histories of Scientific Conservation: Nature, Science, and Society in Patagonian and Amazonian South America,” September 1, 2012 ($195,761);
- Award Abstract #1230365: “The International Criminal Court and the Pursuit of Justice,” August 15, 2012 ($260,001);
- Award Abstract #1226483, “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions,” August 15, 2012, ($435,000); and
- Award Abstract #1157551: “Regulating Accountability and Transparency in China’s Dairy Industry,” June 1, 2012 ($152,464).
Today, the House Education and the Workforce Committee marked up and two measures on to improve college costs and data transparency. The committee modestly amended and approved HR 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act by a vote of 24-13, which ran largely along party lines. The amended HR 1911 would peg interest rates on all federal student loans, except Perkins loans, to the 10-year Treasury note rate plus 2.5 percentage points for undergraduate loans with a cap of 8.5 percent and plus 4.5 percentage points for graduate loans with a cap of 10.5 percent. Interest rates would be calculated and reset yearly.
The committee also marked up and approved HR 1949, the Improving Postsecondary Education Data Act for Students (IPEDS Act). The legislation would create a committee under the Department of Education to conduct a study on the factors students and families want, need, and already consider when choosing a higher education institution. This committee has a year to issue recommendations to assist congressional efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
The Office of Federal Relations is closely tracking this legislation and continues to work on this issue.
For more information on HR 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act.
For more information on HR 1949, the IPEDS Act.