NAICU Washington Update

This Week's Odds: HEA Gets Done This Fall

October 03, 2007

The first half of Higher Education Act reauthorization was effectively completed through the budget reconciliation process, so higher ed watchers are now taking bets on whether or not the rest of the bill gets done this fall. Just a few weeks ago, most observers were betting the bill would not be completed, but those views are quickly changing.

In shifting their predictions, higher ed specialists have been watching two lawmakers in particular: Mike Enzi, lead Republican on the Senate education committee, and George Miller, Democratic chair of the parallel committee in the House. Enzi has surprised observers with his persistence in pushing the House to follow the Senate's lead and get a bill done. It is not that other Senate leaders, such as Committee Chair Ted Kennedy, wouldn't also like a bill; it is just that Senator Enzi seems to have a particular passion for the legislation. Enzi's recent practice of carrying a copy of the Senate-passed HEA bill in his arms, has made observers think that his push might overpower Miller's lesser sense of urgency.

And it is not that George Miller is against finishing up HEA this year. He is just more fully absorbed in reauthorizing No Child Left Behind - a bill that has proven just as controversial in its first rewrite as it did when it was originally crafted seven years ago. Beyond that, Miller's main interest in HEA - cutting lender subsidies to provide more funding for student aid - has been completed via the recently enacted higher education reconciliation legislation (see separate story below). So, with lots of other urgent legislation on his platter, he is less likely to lose sleep if the final work on HEA is pushed into 2008.

The rumors, though, are that Miller's more relaxed approach is being trumped by Enzi's enthusiasm for the legislation, and the House is now expected to develop a bill during October. That would still give plenty of time for Congress to get a bill passed before they adjourn - especially if the newest rumors that Congress could be in session until Christmas hold true. It's an important development to watch unfold, given that the HEA reauthorization bill will address such controversial topics as transfer of credit, accreditation, and college cost.

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