Washington Insights & Highlights
March 15, 2019
Congressional Update

Congress Turns Attention to FY 2020 Appropriations Process

This week, Congress formally began the appropriations process for the coming fiscal year, holding several hearings on the President’s FY 2020 budget proposal. The Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Russell Vought testified before the Senate and House Budget Committees, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar appeared before the House Appropriations Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee and the Senate Finance Committee, where members from both parties expressed concerns with the proposed cuts to funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

On Thursday, March 14, CGS, as a member of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), joined a letter to key House and Senate appropriators recommending a $9 billion appropriation for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

House Democrats also indicated this week that they may not be releasing a budget resolution this year. House and Senate lawmakers must still come to an agreement to raise the spending caps to avoid across-the-board sequestration cuts under the Budget Control Act. 

Additionally, on Thursday, March 14, the Senate passed, 59-41, a resolution of disapproval to block the President’s national emergency declaration to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which passed the House two weeks ago. The President has indicated that he will veto the resolution and it is unlikely that there will be enough votes in Congress to override it.

Congress Lays Groundwork for HEA Reauthorization

This week, committees held the first hearings of the 116th Congress to address impending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). On Tuesday, March 12, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing focused on the simplification of the FAFSA form, a proposal with bipartisan support.

On Wednesday, March 13, the House Education and Labor Committee held its first of five planned hearings around HEA reauthorization. The focus of this hearing was college affordability with several issues of importance to graduate education addressed throughout the discussion, including: the need for better financial education and loan counseling; the impact of Grad PLUS elimination on the ability of underrepresented and low-income to access graduate school; the need to modernize the formula for the Federal Work-Study program and better align it with students career goals and interests; the value of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program; and requirements at the state level for at least a master’s degree in order to qualify for licensure in many fields, including teaching. Prior to the hearing, committee Democrats released a paper outlining their vision for an HEA update.

House Legislation Revives Potential Pathway for DACA Recipients

On Tuesday, March 12, House Democrats introduced legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, including those who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Under H.R. 6, The Dream and Promise Act, these individuals would earn conditional permanent resident status for ten years and avoid removal proceedings if they came to the U.S. at age 17 or younger, graduated from high school, have no serious convictions, and pass a background check. They would be eligible for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status if they complete two years at a U.S. higher education institution, serve two years in the military, or are steadily employed. They would also become eligible for federal financial aid and professional, commercial and business licenses. The bill is expected to pass the House, but it is unlikely to receive the necessary bipartisan support in the Senate.

Bill Would Reinstate Agreements Between Education Department and CFPB

Last week, Senators Tom Udall (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced new legislation (S. 720) that would re-establish data sharing agreements on oversight of student loan servicers between the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which were terminated in 2017. This follows testimony from CFPB’s former student loan ombudsman at a House Financial Services Committee hearing last week on the agency’s failure to address student loan complaints. On Tuesday, March 12, the Senate Banking Committee held its CFPB oversight hearing where several members voiced concerns regarding the agency’s enforcement of student loan oversight.

Bill Would Provide Students with More Information on Degree Programs

Last week, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which would provide a range of comparative data about higher education programs for prospective students and their families. The bill would increase access to information about school graduation rates, debt levels, how much graduates can expect to earn, and other education and workforce-related measures. 

Legislation Would Protect Federal Research from Undue Influence

This week, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Scientific Integrity Act aimed at protecting public scientific research from political influence. The legislation would require agencies that conduct or fund scientific research to formally establish and maintain clear scientific integrity principles. A companion House bill was also introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY).

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