Federal Relations

September 17, 2021

House Committees Do Their Part on Reconciliation

As instructed by their budget reconciliation instructions, 13 House committees wrapped up by yesterday their respective portions of the $3.5 trillion budget package.  The different pieces will be combined into a single vehicle by the House Budget Committee.  The package represents one of the center pieces of the Biden Administration’s domestic agenda.  There has not yet been any official comparable action on the Senate side yet.

Various pieces produced by the different committees are of great interest to UW and the broader higher education and scientific research community.  Some of the highlights of the different bills are provided below.

Education and Labor

The legislation approved by the Education and Labor Committee, which was passed along party lines, includes myriad provisions with direct impact on higher education.  How much these provisions change in the Senate and the actual details of possible implementation remain to be seen.

Arguably the biggest and costliest higher education-related provision in the bill is an attempt to make two years of community college free.  The bill would create a federal-state partnership that seeks to discourage states from charging tuition and fees for community colleges.  The bill would also increase the Pell Grant maximum by $500.

In keeping with the Administration’s focus on MSIs, the bill would also provide additional funds to reduce the tuition levels of students attending such institutions for their first two years.  In addition, the legislation calls for a new R&D infrastructure program for MSIs, with a priority to those with research volumes less than $10 million per year.

In addition, the committee-approved bill includes funding for a number of teacher-prep, -training, and K-12 leadership programs.

The text of the base bill before the markup is available here and a summary of the legislation produced by the majority staff on the committee is available here.

Science, Space, and Technology

Like the bill that was produced by the Education and Labor Committee, the legislation that was marked up by the Science, Space, and Technology Committee is also of significant relevance to the higher education and research community.

Not surprisingly, the committee’s bill includes a number of provisions related to NSF.  For example, it would provide $3.4 billion for “research-enabling equipment, facilities, and infrastructure”, of which $1 billion would support academic research facilities (including a $300-million set-aside for MSIs).  The legislation also includes more than $7.5 billion to fund or extend new or existing awards, fellowships, and scholarships, of which $700 million would be reserved for MSIs.  It also includes language indicating that the funds could be used to fund the new Directorate at the agency focused on technology, which is the center piece of separate bills in both chambers of Congress.

Also not surprising is the bill’s support for climate-related science and research, including, but not limited to, efforts at NOAA, EPA, and NASA.  For example, the legislation would allocate more than $1.2 billion for weather, ocean, and climate research and forecasting and $765 million for climate adaptation and resilience activities at NOAA.  It also calls for nearly $390 million for climate change-related research and development at NASA and more than $260 million for climate change-related research at the EPA.

The legislation would also provide more than $740 million for deferred maintenance needs of NOAA research infrastructure.

The text of the legislation before the markup is available here.

Natural Resources

The bill produced by this committee would also provide additional funds for climate-related research and resilience and adaptation efforts.  For example, under the bill, NOAA Coastal Hazards and Sea Level Rise programs would receive $500 million to increase support for IOOS, shoreline mapping, decision-support frameworks, and research and development activities.  In addition, the committee-approved legislation would provide $9.5 billion for the Coastal and Great Lakes Restoration and Technical Assistance Program.

At the USGS, the bill would increase funding for the Climate Adaptation Science Centers program by $100 million.

As part of a larger effort in the legislation, fire science and research would also receive funding.

The committee used this version of the legislation as the basis for the markup.

Energy and Commerce

The Energy and Commerce Committee very broad jurisdiction, including in many instances, healthcare.  The legislation that was approved by the committee includes provisions in that area.  For example, the bill would provide $3 billion for the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health (ARPA-H), a proposal initially advanced by Biden Administration.

The legislation also seeks to provide additional resources for medical education as well s as nursing education and program, including payments to teaching health centers that operate graduate medical education programs.

A copy of the base bill for the markup is available  here.

Judiciary

The bill produced by the House Judiciary Committee includes several changes to current immigration law that would be welcomed by the higher education committee.  However, depending on decisions that are forthcoming from the Senate Parliamentarian regarding whether such provisions are allowed in a reconciliation package, the prospects of these provisions going forward remain unclear.

The legislation would extend green card eligibility to several categories of individuals, including those historically meeting the definitions laid out in the DREAM Act.  It would also provide additional work- and family-based green cards by recapturing such unused visas, going back to FY1992.

A copy of the bill that served as the base bill for the markup is available here.

Ways and Means

The Ways and Means Committee-approved bill also includes several provisions of interest to UW and the broader higher education community.

For example, it would reinstate advanced refunding bonds and would create new direct pay bonds.  It would also remove the taxability of the portion of the Pell Grant not used for tuition and fees and would ensure that the interplay between the Pell Grant and the Lifetime Learning and the American Opportunity Tax Credit would not impact the tax credits for students and families.  It would also phase out the Paid Leave Tax Credit first created by the FFCRA two years early.

This bill would also create a tax credit program for contributions made to public universities for research infrastructure purposes; priority would be given to institutions with FTE student populations of less than 12,000.

Portions of the bill that served as the starting points for the committee are available here and here.  Summary documents are here and here.

Next Steps

As noted above, the House Budget Committee is expected to combine the different bills into a single package, perhaps as soon as next week.  How the Senate proceeds on reconciliation remains to be seen.

We will continue to provide updates.