On February 5, by a party vote of 51-50, the Senate adopted an FY 2021 Budget Resolution proposal that will instruct congressional committees to write a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill based on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan. Referred to as a “vote-a-rama,” the lengthy amendment process in the Senate involved approximately 900 amendments to be considered rapidly, resulting in hours of votes. This process is required for reconciliation, which would shrink the vote hurdle from a two-thirds majority (60 votes) to a simple majority (51 votes) to pass the new budget resolution. It also allows for both sides of the aisle to offer amendments reflecting policy priorities of each major party, and many were criticized by both sides for having little to do with COVID-19 relief. Attention now turns to the House of Representatives, who will again vote to approve to move forward in the process of crafting the reconciliation bill.
On February 3, President Biden encouraged lawmakers to move swiftly to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief, citing a rise in behavioral health problems and the approaching expiration of unemployment benefits. President Biden identified his sticking points from his $1.9 trillion proposal, including the $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans. The President clarified that he and Democratic lawmakers should be open to negotiating who would qualify for the checks in the final deal, a notable position as a group of bipartisan Senators are filing an amendment that would restrict the next round of stimulus checks to lower income workers.
On February 1, President Biden met with a group of Republican Senators who proposed a $618 billion coronavirus-relief counter-offer to his expansive plan. The GOP proposal would deliver $20 billion for K-12 education, omitting higher education and suggesting a significant decrease from Biden’s plan, which would provide $170 billion for education overall. The White House has not yet announced a deadline for the relief legislation but has expressed urgency for Congress to deliver robust aid to the American people.
Cardona Testifies; Nomination Process Continues to Fill Biden’s Cabinet
The Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) emphasized the need for federal dollars to help struggling postsecondary institutions and students meet basic needs. Cardona promised to work with students and institutions to identify how best to allocate federal funds and repeatedly promised to uphold the civil rights of all students, which Senator Murray noted would be instrumental in the overhaul of the Trump administration’s Title IX regulations. In the coming days, the HELP Committee is expected to vote to advance Cardona’s nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.
On February 2, Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed as the secretary of homeland security; he will be the first immigrant to serve in the role. On February 3, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s nomination to serve as Commerce secretary, advancing the nomination for a full Senate vote. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee also advanced Denis McDonough’s nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. The schedule of the upcoming Senate committee meetings and hearings for the week of February 8-12 is available here.
Judge Safeguards OPT; Biden Rescinds Compliance Unit Order
Judge Walton’s opinion states that DHS has the authority to enforce immigration laws that allow student visa holders the ability to participate in employment for “practical training purposes.” Additionally, he explains that DHS’s interpretations of immigration law have remained valid in the eyes of Congress through repeated amendments. The plaintiff, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers Union, has filed an appeal challenging Judge Walton’s ruling.
The continuation of OPT was uncertain during the Trump administration, facing critiques that the program increased competition for jobs for American workers. On January 13, the Trump administration’s DHS announced an OPT compliance unit that would monitor the program to ensure that involved parties are operating in a manner consistent with regulatory and statutory law. On January 26, the Biden administration rescinded the message, citing that additional reviews of the program determined that the compliance goals of the January 13 announcement are already being met, and thus, the new unit would not be necessary.
Dept. of Ed Letter Encourages Pursuit of Higher Education
CGS applauds the letter, which could expand access to financial resources for students. CGS also continues to advocate for graduate student access to specific federal financial aid programs, such as the Pell Grant Program, highlighted in a new policy brief: Maximizing Pell Grants to Support Graduate Students.