Congress Walks Procedural Tightrope to Advance COVID-19 Relief Legislation

On February 25, the Senate parliamentarian issued a ruling to remove the proposed minimum wage increase from the Senate’s version of the relief package, the latest step in moving the coronavirus relief legislation through Congress. In the budget process known as reconciliation, the parliamentarian oversees which provisions can and cannot be included in the version of the package sent to the Senate. The upper chamber could vote on its version of the bill as early as next week; the bill is expected to retain the roughly $40 billion outlined for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

The procedural nature of the budget reconciliation process requires the House and Senate chambers to pass identical legislation with all measures satisfying the Byrd Rule. The Byrd Rule, the principle means of amending the Senate’s version of the budget bill, eliminates line items that enact incidental changes; fall outside of committee jurisdiction; or increase the deficit outside the ten-year budget window.

On February 26, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on their version of the budget package. Once passed in the House, the package will require a simple majority vote in the Senate to pass. The legislation will then be sent to President Biden’s desk and is expected to be signed into law. Lawmakers and the Biden administration have set a deadline to enact the legislation in early March before funding for certain assistance programs expires.

Senate to Vote on Cardona Nomination; Confirmation Process Continues

The Senate continues the confirmation process to approve personnel to President Biden’s Cabinet. On February 25, the upper chamber held a procedural vote for Miguel Cardona to serve as secretary of education. Next week, Cardona’s nomination will go to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. On February 23-24, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and Finance Committee held hearings on Xavier Becerra’s nomination for secretary of health and human services.


Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Jennifer Granholm to be secretary of energy by a vote of 64-35; Tom Vilsack to be secretary of agriculture by a vote of 92-7; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. by a vote of 78-20. The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee advanced the nomination of Isabella Casillas Guzman to be the administrator of the Small Business Administration by a vote of 15-5; the Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for Deb Haaland to serve as secretary of the interior; and the Judiciary Committee held a two-day confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland’s nomination for attorney general. The House and Senate Committee schedule for the week of March 1-5 is available here.

International Students’ Lawsuit Addresses OPT Application Delays

On February 16, eighteen international students filed a class-action suit against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over processing delays for Optional Practical Training (OPT) applications. The lawsuit compels USCIS to process and adjudicate applications in a timely manner; seeks to prevent ICE from removing students who lose their F-1 status while waiting for USCIS to process applications; and requests protections that ensure that applications are evaluated as if USCIS were not experiencing processing delays.


USCIS has since acknowledged the delays at certain lockboxes, the receptacles for OPT applications. The agency announced that applicants would not be rejected if they filed applications at lockboxes no longer in use. The agency announced a change in filing address instructions on January 8. USCIS ensured the automatic extension of OPT employment authorization for applicants who met the time-sensitive and detailed application requirements for the STEM OPT extension, even if their post-completion OPT period expires while their application is pending.


Without the timely processing of applications, OPT applicants risk losing their F-1 visa status, job offers, income, health insurance, and the opportunity to resubmit an OPT application if their initial application is rejected. The OPT program helps to meet workforce demands, contributes to U.S. economic growth, and fosters global collaboration. CGS continues to advocate for policies that preserve OPT and the application process, including the timely review of applications.

CGS Government Affairs Activity

On February 22, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter to Senate leadership in support of the bipartisan Dream Act (S.264). Introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Dream Act would grant lawful permanent residence and eventually U.S. citizenship if individuals meet certain criteria, including pursuing higher education. The Dream Act also seeks to achieve many of the same outcomes as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including deportation relief and permits for work and education (CGS policy brief: DACA and Graduate Education). All CGS letters to the 117th Congress are available here.


On February 25, CGS Government Affairs published an updated policy brief on the Grad PLUS Direct Loan Program. Administered through the Department of Education, the Grad PLUS loans are an attractive means for graduate and professional students to finance their education. All new and updated policy briefs are available here.

Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations Process Begins Slowly

This week, the House Appropriations Committee began initial hearings in the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) appropriations process. On February 24, the Defense Subcommittee held a virtual hearing on the Department of Defense’s FY22 budget request, and the Financial Services Subcommittee held a hearing on the Federal Judiciary’s FY22 budget request.


Each year, Congress is responsible for passing twelve appropriations bills, or a continuing resolution, by September 30 to keep the federal government running. The process traditionally begins when the Office of Management and Budget sends the first budget request, the President’s Budget, to Congress. However, facing delays from the transition and still working on getting administration personnel confirmed, the Biden White House has yet to issue a public timeline for sending the president’s FY22 budget request to Congress, which is slowing this year’s process.


CGS will keep members apprised as the FY22 appropriations process develops. Upcoming events from the House Appropriations Committee are available here.