NAICU Washington Update

Congress Goes Home for August Recess; Fall Calendar Likely to Include Higher Ed Activity

August 05, 2014

Congress began its traditional summer recess on August 4, and is scheduled to return to DC the week of September 8. With party control of the Senate at stake in the upcoming election, it is unlikely that members will spend much time in Washington this fall before heading back home to campaign.

Generally, a jammed calendar means little policy work gets done. However, higher education may be the exception to the rule, as major legislation is shaping up that could frame big changes in the federal rules affecting colleges.

Among the “must-dos” for Congress are the annual funding bills, including deciding how much money to allot for student aid for the 2015-16 school year. The Senate subcommittee has set its mark at the scheduled $100 increase for the Pell Grant maximum, to $5,830; and it has increased funding for the other student aid programs.

The House has not written its education funding bill, but may do so in September. There is no appetite for a government shutdown this fall, so it is expected a continuing resolution will be passed in September to keep the government running through the election. Then the current Congress will come back before the end of the year to make a final decision on next year’s spending bill in a lame duck session.

Just as significant for campuses, though, will be the behind-the-scenes work that will continue on the rewrite of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Members in both the House and Senate will continue to flesh out their separate frameworks for reauthorizing the HEA. The policy decisions made between now and this fall are likely to shape the structure and key components of the final legislation.

Among the most rapid developments are legislative proposals on campus sexual assault, reflecting rare bi-partisan support for making massive changes in campus disciplinary processes. In a critical election year, it is possible that legislation in this area could move quickly, before being fully aired and reviewed.

With regard to our tax priorities, the House voted to make permanent two important higher education tax benefits, the IRA charitable rollover and the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The Senate will likely push for a less expensive, two-year extension of the IRA rollover in conference this fall, and it is unclear if they will consider AOTC legislation, since the current provision doesn’t expire until the end of 2017.

With all this activity brewing in a heated political climate, it is more essential than ever that NAICU members try to engage their elected officials at home on these critical matters, so that whatever legislation is crafted this fall is thoughtful and helps both our institutions and the students we serve.

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