Federal Relations

July 19, 2009

Update from Washington, DC

In two short weeks, Members of Congress will flee Washington, DC and return to their home states for a 5-week summer break.  The Senate will work one week longer, starting their summer recess period on August 7th.  Both the House and the Senate have set lofty goals for the next two (or three) weeks, which makes this stretch one of the most intense periods so far in this session of Congress.  

The House democrats just last week unveiled major portions of their health care reform proposal and have been moving at a pretty fast clip to approve the measures in three different committees before moving it to the floor for action sometime in the next two weeks.  The Education & Labor and the Ways & Means committees both approved their portions of the bill last week, while the Energy & Commerce Committee will continue to debate their portions of the bill this coming week.                        

The Senate meanwhile has approved their health care reform proposal in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, but the Finance Committee has not yet been able to come to agreement on how to finance the package.  After failing to meet their deadline last week, they will try again to move legislation out of that committee this week.  The sticking point appears to be how to find more Medicare and Medicaid cost-cutting measures and a mix of tax increases to pay for reform.

In addition to the efforts on health care reform, the House and Senate continue to make progress on their FY10 spending measures.  The House has approved seven of the twelve bills, and will take up the Labor-HHS-Education and Transportation-HUD bills this week.  The Senate has only approved two of the twelve bills, and will use the next three weeks to finish work on their remaining measures.  Both the House and Senate seem motivated to complete work on the twelve bills before the August recess. 

On Tuesday, the House Education and Labor Committee will begin marking up higher education legislation that would end a major student loan program.  The bill, released last week, would end the Federal Family Education Loan program and originate all federally backed student loans through the Education Department’s Direct Lending Program.  Some of the savings from this action would go toward increasing the amount of aid available to eligible students, as well as funding the President’s recently announced community college initiative.

Two different Senate committees – Agriculture and Environment & Public Works – will continue working on their portions of a climate and energy plan in anticipation of floor debate this fall (after the August recess).  They will hear this week from Obama administration officials and governors – including WA State Governor Chris Gregoire.

With so much action in so many different subject areas, the Office of Federal Relations will be busy working with our congressional friends to push for those issues that will benefit the University — particularly as they relate to appropriations measures and competitive grant opportunities in the climate, energy, and health care bills.  As we move through the next two to three weeks, please stay in touch and let us know if there are issues or bills that you’d like us to watch for you.

Christy Gullion, Director