Washington Insights & Highlights
March 1, 2019
Congressional Update

House Passes Disapproval Resolution; Congress Begins FY 2020 Budget & Appropriations

On Tuesday, February 26, the House passed by a vote of 245-182 a resolution of disapproval blocking the President’s national emergency declaration to build a Southern border wall. Thirteen House Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the declaration. The Senate now has 18 days to consider the resolution. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that there will be a vote prior to the next Congressional recess on March 18. As many as ten Republicans are considering supporting it, which would be more than enough votes for the simple majority required to pass. The President signaled that he would veto the resolution.

With funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year complete, Congress will turn its attention to Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations in the coming weeks. Although several hearings were already held this week with respect to spending priorities, the process will start officially with the release of the President’s budget in mid-March. Similar to the past two years, the Administration is expected to propose significant cuts to discretionary non-defense spending, which include funding for student aid, science, and research programs. Appropriators have rejected such cuts in the past.

Prior to writing appropriations bills, however, Congress must lift the budget caps and set spending levels for FY 2020, similar to the bipartisan, two-year budget deal struck in 2018. Unless another bipartisan agreement is reached, spending would have to be cut by about 10 percent, or $126 billion, compared to current levels. Additionally, Congress must also address the debt ceiling, which will be reached on March 1. The Treasury Department can continue to take "extraordinary measures" to extend the government's borrowing authority through September or October. Lawmakers could move to pair a debt ceiling hike with a spending caps deal.

On February 25, as a member of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), CGS joined a letter to Congressional leaders thanking them for passing a Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 spending package, which provides $8 billion in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Senate Democrats’ HEA Priorities

This week, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, laid out Senate Democrats priorities for a Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization: (1) affordability, including state/federal partnerships and investments in Pell Grants and Federal Work Study; (2) accountability; (3) access; and (4) campus safety and civil rights. Several weeks ago, HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) discussed part of his vision for an HEA bill.

Congress Takes Science Related Actions

On Monday, February 25, the House passed two bills impacting the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (H.R. 425) would expand veterans’ job and educational opportunities in the sciences by requiring NSF to develop a veterans outreach plan—including updating several fellowship and grant programs—and publish data on veterans’ participation in STEM fields as part of its annual “Indicators” report. The Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act of 2019 (H.R. 539) would expand the eligibility pool for the I-Corps program to include those who have already been awarded NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer grants. A companion bill (S. 118) has also been introduced in the Senate. 

On Tuesday, February 26, the House Science Committee held a hearing on “The Future of ARPA-E.”

On Thursday, February 28, the Senate confirmed, 52-47, Andrew Wheeler to be the next Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wheeler has been serving in an acting capacity since July 2018.

Lawmakers Question Education Department

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) are asking the Department of Education to detail the agency’s implementation of a congressional directive to publicly disclose requests it receives from law enforcement to access student loan records. The lawmakers are concerned that the department is failing to comply with the order.

Congressional Democrats are also concerned with what they believe is the department’s efforts to influence its Office of the Inspector General (IG). Last month, after questions were raised by several Members of Congress, the department reversed its decision to abruptly replace its acting inspector general. They indicated that they will continue to look into the decision to remove the acting IG.

A group of 17 Senate Democrats, led by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), is asking the department to resolve the current backlog of “borrower defense” claims. The department disclosed last year that the number of unresolved applications for loan forgiveness had increase to more than 139,000 borrowers.

Senate Hearing on China’s Relationship to U.S. Education

On Thursday, February 28, the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing on “China's Impact on the U.S. Education System.” The main focus of the hearing was influence of Confucius Institutes on both American post-secondary and K-12 education, with much of the discussion stemming from a bipartisan report released by the subcommittee. Members on the panel expressed their support for the importance and value of cultural exchange for our students, economy, and global competitiveness. At the same time, they voiced their concerns around the lack of transparency and reciprocity, particularly as it relates to academic freedom, between institutions operating in both China and the United States.

House Bill on DREAMers in Higher Ed

On February 15, Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) introduced the Higher Education Dream Act of 2019, which would expand federal financial aid opportunities to DREAMers, many of whom are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The legislation would also prohibit institutions that receive federal funds from refusing to admit, enroll, or grant in-state tuition benefits to qualified students based on their immigration status. The House also plans to reintroduce the Dream Act on March 12, which would provide a path to citizenship to all undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

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