Washington Insights & Highlights
May 24, 2019
Congressional Update

House Appropriations Committee Approves More FY 2020 Spending Bills

This week, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up and reported to the floor four more Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 bills: Commerce-Justice-Science; Energy-Water; Interior-Environment; and Defense. The measures fund many departments, agencies, and programs covering higher education, science, and research:

  • The Commerce-Justice-Science bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $8.64 billion, $561.14 million above FY 2019 and $1.54 billion above the President’s request. The Research and Related Activities and Education and Human Resources accounts would be funded at $7.1 billion and $950 million, respectively. The bill also provides $1.04 billion for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), $5.48 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and $7.16 billion for science programs run by NASA. All represent increases from FY 2019 levels and the Administration’s budget request.
  • The Energy-Water bill provides $6.87 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, an increase of $285 million above FY 2019 and $1.3 billion above the President’s budget request. It also rejects the Administration’s proposed elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), funding it at $425 million, an increase of $59 million above FY 2019.
  • The Interior-Environment measure funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $9.52 billion—$672 million above the FY 2019 enacted level and $3.42 billion higher than the President’s budget request—with $727.63 million specifically towards the Office of Science and Technology. The bill would fund both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities at $167.5 million each—an increase of $12.5 million over FY 2019—rejecting the proposal in the President’s budget request to eliminate the agencies.
  • The Defense legislation increases funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) by $1.3 million above FY 2019 levels, for a total of $3.53 billion.

The full committee has now approved eight of twelve FY 2020 appropriations bills.

Additionally, on Thursday, May 23, the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee marked up its FY 2020 bill which provides $3.26 billion—$387 million above the President’s budget request—for agriculture research programs. This includes $1.02 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an increase of $1.02 million above FY 2019 levels.

CGS’s FY 2020 Appropriations Chart has been updated to reflect these House proposed funding levels.

On Tuesday, May 21, Congressional leaders met with key White House and Administration staff to discuss a two-year budget agreement to lift the discretionary spending caps. A bipartisan, bicameral deal must be reached to avoid significant, across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense programs. Also under consideration is pairing the budget bill with debt ceiling increase, which Congress must address before this fall. Several science and research coalitions, of which CGS is a member, sent a letter to the President and Congressional leadership urging them to work together to come to a budget agreement.

HEA Work Continues

On Wednesday, May 22, the House Education and Labor Higher Education Subcommittee held the fourth of five bipartisan hearings on Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization. This hearing focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and community colleges. Although the majority of the discussion centered on bachelor’s and/or associates degrees, the role of HBCUs and MSIs in preparing minority doctoral recipients as well training a diverse group of teachers—many of whom are master’s degree holders—was acknowledged. Both House and Senate education committees continue their work on an HEA bill with draft legislation possible at some point this summer.

Bills Aimed at Dreamers Approved by House Committee

On Wednesday, May 22, the House Judiciary Committee marked up a pair of bills, The Dream Act of 2019 (H.R. 2820) and The American Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 2821), which would provide permanent resident status and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, including those currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Among the requirements that would lead to eligibility is completion of at least two years at a U.S. higher education institution. Gaining lawful permanent resident status would also make this population eligible for federal financial aid. CGS, along with the higher education community, supports passage of the legislation.

This comes as a federal court ruled last week ruled that the Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was unlawful due to the lack of valid explanation.

Tax Bill Passes House

On Thursday, May 23, the House passed the bipartisan Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, making significant changes to retirement savings tax policies. 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. Included in the legislation is a fix to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which unintendedly increased the tax liability on the portion of scholarships set aside for expenses to low-income students under the age of 24 (i.e., the “Kiddie Tax”), which may impact some graduate students. The change would go into effect retroactively.

The Senate also passed its own, more narrow fix, this week. Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) indicated that he supports the House’s more board approach to addressing this issue. The committee has also introduced its own version of a retirement savings bill, which includes the graduate student and postdoc provision, but not the 529 expansion. The Senate may take up the House-passed legislation after Congress returns from the holiday recess.

Bill Would Restore CFPB-Education Department Data Sharing

This week, the House passed legislation that aims to repeal several regulatory changes made by the Administration to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The bill would reinstate the data sharing agreement between the CFPB and the Department of Education regarding federal student loan servicer complaints, which was terminated in 2017.

Senators Urge DOD to Implement Military Student Benefits

Last week, a group of democratic senators sent a letter to the Department of Defense (DOD) asking the agency to retroactively apply the zero-interest loan benefit to eligible military borrowers. Guidance issued last month created a matching agreement between DOD and the Department of Education allowing them to automatically provide members of the military currently serving in war zones with student loan benefits.

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