Federal Relations

November 8, 2012

Post Election Look

After a long and tenuous campaign season, the election results are in and essentially reflect the status quo. President Obama will serve a second term as President, the Senate will remain in the control of Democrats, and the House will remain in the control of Republicans.

While the party-makeup of the new Congress will essentially be the same as it was in the 112th Congress, at least one-third of the 113th Congress will feature House members with less than three years of experience. Across the board there will likely be greater polarization among the two parties in both chambers – with liberals gaining among Democrats and conservatives gaining among Republicans.

The Washington state congressional delegation picks up three new members.  Suzan DelBene (D) will fill Jay Inslee’s remaining term through the lame duck session and also join the 113th Congress to represent District 1.  Derek Kilmer (D) was elected to the seat being vacated by Congressman Nom Dicks as he retires, and Denny Heck (D) is the member-elect for the new 10th District. All other members of our delegation were re-elected easily.

It is important to note that even though the President was re-elected, his Administration will be reshuffling some of its personnel line-up. In an Administration more willing to push the limits of Executive authority in education policy than any in history, who fills key policy slots at the White House, OMB, and the Education Department, will have a critical impact on education policy throughout the nation. Obama has had considerable success in driving an education policy agenda through the Executive – not Legislative – Branch. Even if there are some shifts in personnel, the Administration is likely to keep a similar team and game plan to create and push policy out through the Department of Education.

The bottom line is that we expect the Obama Administration to be once again in control of the policy-making process – and therefore able to set the policy agenda – right up until the day when Congress proves it can pass bills that can be signed into law. But in the end, there is only so much an Administration can do to implement significant and lasting policy change in education without the involvement of Congress.

The last session of Congress was one of the least productive in memory on education policy. The accomplishments were primarily limited to short-term fixes to the Pell Grant shortfall and preventing the automatic doubling of federal subsidized student loan interest rates. Overall, despite attempts to reauthorize ESEA and WIA, not one education or job training authorization bill made it to the Floor for consideration, with the exception of a charter school bill that was passed by the House. Nor was there a significant amount of education policy driven through appropriations bills, which has been common up until recently. It is extremely unlikely that Congress will take up the Higher Education Act (HEA) even though it is scheduled for reauthorization.

As a result of this inaction, the Obama Administration was given nearly complete latitude to carry out many of their key policy initiatives with very little direction from Congress.

The Office of Federal Relations looks forward to working with the returning and new members of our congressional delegation, and hopes that they can come together to protect and promote education and research issues important to the higher education community in the state of Washington.