April 30, 2012

Legislative Update

By Christy Gullion

Congress is in recess this week, returning to work on Monday, May 7th.  Before leaving town last Friday, the House took action on legislation to delay the increase in student loan interest rates.  And both chambers continued to move forward on their FY2013 appropriations measures.

FY 2013 Appropriations

While Congress is expected to finalize any major FY2013 spending decisions until after the November elections, it’s already apparent that we will see lean spending plans coming out of both chambers as they continue to work within the constraints of the Budget Control Act (LP 112-25) and also deal with deficit reduction.  All of this will force lawmakers to more carefully prioritize spending and likely make tough, and substantial, programmatic cuts in both domestic and non-defense spending in coming years. 

Student Loan Interest Rates

The topic du jour last week (and during the recess week) revolves around preventing the increase in student loan interest rates.  While there appears to be broad, bipartisan support to prevent this increase, the two parties remain divided on how best to pay for it.  On Friday, the House passed legislation that would prevent the 3.4 percent student loan interest rate from doubling in July, but the White House and Democrats are opposed because the measure’s $6 billion cost would be offset by eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the 2010 health care reform bill.  The fund provides money for programs aimed at preventing tobacco use, obesity, heart disease, strokes and cancer.  While both parties oppose allowing the student loan interest rates to return to 6.8 percent, the White House vowed to veto the measure over the proposed repeal of the prevention fund.  The Senate is expected to take up their version of the bill when Congress returns from recess next week.  That proposal would offset the costs by ending a corporate tax break, which is backed by most Democrats.  Senate leaders however, have indicated they will look for a compromise offset that both parties can agree to.

Surface Transportation Reauthorization

Shortly after returning to work next week, Congressional leaders will convene a Senate-House conference committee to negotiate a final measure to reauthorize highway and transit funding and programs.   The two chambers are miles apart with the House advocating for a 5-year reauthorization and the Senate promoting a 2-year bill.  There are also major differences on how to pay for highway and transit programs.  It will certainly be a long, drawn out process that may – or may not – result in a final bill.  The current “temporary” authorization runs out in 61 days and will certainly need another extension if Congress cannot come to agreement.

The Office of Federal Relations is tracking several provisions in the proposals that could have some impact on the University’s transit initiatives and the safety enhancements planned for the portion of the Burke Gilman Trail that runs through campus.  Additionally, the bill will reauthorize the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program.  The UW operates the Region 10 UTC.

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