What Happened Over the Last Month: Infrastructure Reform and the Senate Budget Resolution

Over the last month, there has been significant legislative action on a targeted infrastructure bill and congressional efforts to move a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package. On August 10, the Senate passed a $550 billion infrastructure bill by a vote of 69-30. This bipartisan piece of legislation includes funding for roads, bridges, railways, broadband, and other infrastructure projects. Following this bipartisan legislative effort, the Senate then considered Senate Budget Resolution (S.Con.Res.14), which instructs congressional committees to assemble a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package. S.Con.Res.14 passed in the Senate by a party-line vote of 50-49 on August 11.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, 10 moderate Democrats pressed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the House Leadership to hold a vote on the $550 billion infrastructure bill first and then consider S.Con.Res. 14. After a week of intra-party discussions between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party, the two sides reached agreement and the House subsequently passed S.Con.Res. 14, which instructs congressional committees to assemble their respective pieces of a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package. As part of the agreement, the House is expected to vote on the $550 billion infrastructure bill on September 28.

FY2022 Budget Reconciliation: Build Back Better Act

Since the passage of the S.Con.Res.14, the budget resolution, which instructs congressional committees to assemble their respective pieces of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, all 13 House authorizing committees have marked-up and passed their respective proposals.


On September 8, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee marked-up and passed its budget proposal. In its proposal, the committee recommends $45.5 billion in funding for science agencies and programs over the next decade. Specifically, the committee recommends $7.5 billion for the National Science Foundation. These funds will be directed towards new and existing research grants, scholarships, and fellowships in the STEM disciplines. The committee also recommends $400 million towards climate research and $700 million towards HBCUs and MSIs.


On September 9, the House Education and Labor Committee marked-up and passed its budget proposal. Specifically, the committee recommends $111 billion for Higher Education programs, including free community college and an increase in Pell Grant funding for low-income students. But the committee only recommended a $500 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award, which is far lower than the $1,475 amount requested by the Administration in its FY22 budget request.


A few days ago, the House Judiciary Committee marked-up and passed its proposal. The committee recommends allowing Dreamers and essential workers the ability to apply for permanent residency and the “recapture” of unused green cards. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also marked-up and passed its proposal. The committee’s proposal includes $7 billion for public health infrastructure activities, $10 billion in grants to update hospitals and other medical facilities, $15 billion for pandemic preparedness, and $3 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.

Expanding Access to Graduate Education Act (H.R. 4002)

In the 116th and 117th Congress, legislation was introduced that would allow graduate students who receive Pell Grant support as undergraduates, the ability to apply remaining semesters of Pell support towards a graduate degree. The Council of Graduate Schools has endorsed this important legislation in the last congress, as well as the current congress. Recently, CGS President Ortega sent letters to the House and Senate Leaderships to urge the inclusion of legislative language that would allow unused Pell Grant support to be applied towards a post-baccalaureate degree in an enacted FY2022 Budget Reconciliation: Build Back Better Act.

Senate Confirms James Kvaal as Under Secretary of Education

After five months, the Senate confirmed the nomination of James Kvaal to be Under Secretary of Education. Immediately following the 58-37 confirmation vote, U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a statement in which he expressed delight at Mr. Kvaal’s confirmation and highlighted his wealth of experience in higher education.


In the statement, Secretary Cardona said, “James Kvaal, the nation’s new Under Secretary of Education, has a deep understanding of the strengths, needs, and challenges in postsecondary education. This is critical at a time when increasing college access, affordability, and completion is key to helping America build back better. With this confirmation, the Biden Administration and the American people gain a dedicated and distinguished public servant with strong expertise in higher education who will always put students first.  James previously served as the president of the Institute for College Access and Success, where his work on higher education included initiatives to make college tuition more affordable, protect students from unaffordable loans, and help many more students graduate from college. Over the course of his career, he also has served in senior roles at the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and here at the U.S. Department of Education. James recognizes the life-changing power of higher education, and I am delighted to welcome him to the agency.”

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill for Dreamers

On September 15, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the America’s Children Act. This bipartisan legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented Dreamers or foreign citizens who grew up legally in the United States on a parent’s work visa, but then aged out of the visa process. Specifically, this bill would allow 200,000 people who came to the United States as children and graduated from a U.S. university to apply for a green card. In a joint press release, Senators Padilla and Paul made the following comments:


“We cannot turn our backs on the ‘Documented Dreamers’ who have spent most of their lives in this country, contributing to their communities and our economy but face continued uncertainty and risk deportation once they turn 21,” Senator Padilla said.


“These children who have legally called the United States home for many years and even decades, are contributing members in our communities and to our economy. They shouldn’t be penalized by the government’s failures in addressing green card backlogs,” said Dr. Paul.


A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Deborah K. Ross (D-NC). The America’s Children Act of 2021 (H.R. 4331) is also a bipartisan bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. “My community in North Carolina is one of many across the country that has flourished because of immigrant workers, who spend years growing our economy and raising their children as Americans,” said Congresswoman Ross.