Washington Insights & Highlights
April 12, 2019
Congressional Update

Congress Continues to Work on FY 2020 Spending Legislation

Key lawmakers in Congress have started negotiations around a Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding agreement to address budget caps and avoid potential mandatory, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending (also known as sequestration). On March 28, CGS, as member of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), joined a letter to Congressional and Administration leaders urging them to enact such a deal.

On April 3, the House Budget Committee marked up its draft bill to raise the budget caps. The measure would set the nondefense limit at $639 billion, or a 5.6 percent increase, and a defense limit at $733 billion, or 2.4 percent above the current year. The House also provided the overall topline allocation of $1.295 trillion for the House Appropriations Committee to begin drafting FY 2020 spending bills. How the total will be broken down among the measures will be decided in the next few weeks. The House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee plans to markup its bill on April 30, with a full committee markup tentatively scheduled for May 8. The House Appropriations Committee aims to report all of its bills to the floor this spring.

House and Senate Appropriations Committees continued holding hearings on the Administration’s FY 2020 budget requests, with a particular focus on agencies that fund science and research, including:

Appropriators from both parties once again expressed concerns with proposed cuts to science and research conducted by the NIH, DOE Office of Science, USDA, and the EPA, as well as the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E). Lawmakers also discussed the need to maintain a balance between keeping federally-funded research safe from foreign interference while also remaining open to scholarly exchange, as well as efforts to combat sexual harassment in the STEM fields.

On Wednesday, April 10, the House Education and Labor Committee held an oversight hearing on the Department of Education. Secretary Betsy DeVos testified on behalf of the department, and responded to questions regarding the agency’s FY 2020 budget request as well as: the department’s implementation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program; borrower-defense regulation; the department’s oversight of student loan servicers; modernizing Pell Grants; and national security concerns around potential foreign influence at colleges and universities.

CGS Supports the Dream Act

On April 4, CGS signed onto a higher education community letter in support of the recently reintroduced Dream Act, which would grant legal status and a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children including those currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The bill was introduced last month by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). CGS had supported the previous version of the legislation.

HEA Work Moves Forward

Congress continues to entertain aspects of higher education in preparation for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). On Wednesday, April 10, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on strengthening accountability measures. Much of the conversation and questions focused on addressing student loan debt, the role of the accountability triad (the federal government, states, and accreditors), and the impact of weak standards on low-income and underrepresented students. The House Education and Labor Higher Education Subcommittee held its own accountability hearing last week where many of the same issues were discussed, with particular focus on for-profit institutions.

The HELP Committee also held a hearing last week looking at campus sexual assault and Title IX issues. The majority of the discussion centered on cross examination measures, the definition of sexual harassment, and whether the location of the alleged assault impacts an institutions ability to investigate. These issues are also part of the Department of Education’s current re-write of the rules governing Title IX on college campuses. CGS joined the higher education community in submitting comments to the department in January.

PSLF Bill Introduced in the Senate

On Thursday, April 11, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation that would makes changes to and expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, making it easier for more borrowers to qualify and receive the benefits. The What You Can Do for Your Country Act of 2019 would allow borrowers to have half of their loan balance forgiven after five years of making payments rather than waiting the full 10 years that is currently required, simplify the process by which borrowers certify their public service employment, and expand PSLF to borrowers of all types of federal student loans who are enrolled in any of the loan repayment plans.

House Marks-Up Tax Bill

On Tuesday, April 2, the House Ways and Means Committee marked-up bipartisan legislation, the Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, aimed at savings and retirement-related tax provisions. If enacted, the measure would allow graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to save for retirement using funds received through certain fellowships and stipends and expands 529 plans to be used for qualified student loan repayments.

STEM Harassment Bill Introduced in Senate

Last week, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Jacky Rosen (D-VA) introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019. The legislation would expand efforts to better understand the causes and consequences of sexual harassment and to reduce its prevalence and negative impact on the STEM workforce. The companion House bill (H.R. 36) was introduced earlier this year by the House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

Concerns with CFPB’s Oversight of Student Loans

Last week, a group of six Democratic senators sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) voicing concerns with the agency’s lack of oversight on student loan issues, particularly with its supervision of loan servicers. The letter also highlights ongoing implementation issues of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program as another area of concern and asks CFPB to provide information on several detailed questions with respect to its work to address these issues.

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