NAICU Washington Update

114th Congress Kicks into Gear

February 12, 2015

The 114th Congress got its official start on January 6, spending most of the month organizing and sorting its intended legislative agenda. The 2014 midterm elections dramatically changed the make-up of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House, Republicans bolstered their majority by gaining a 247-188 seat advantage, while in the Senate, Republicans took over the majority, gaining a 54-46 seat advantage. With this new majority, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) becomes Majority Leader replacing Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who moves to Minority Leader.

If Congress moves as planned, colleges and universities would see a great deal of activity on issues that would impact higher education.

Carrying over from the last Congress, the tax committees (House Committee and Senate Committee) in both chambers plan to continue their efforts at tax reform, which could include simplification of the confusing array of current tuition benefits for students. [See June 27, 2014 Washington Update] Such a proposal could be a huge help to all students, provided no student gets their tuition benefits cut in the process. NAICU has been proactively supporting such a proposal for several years. Also on the plate of the tax committees are plans to strengthen charitable giving incentives.

More far-reaching discussions to reauthorize the Higher Education Act will continue in the education committees of both the House and Senate. Top topics include deregulation of higher education, reform of accreditation, simplification of aid programs and processes (including the potential elimination of most campus-based aid programs and the FAFSA, and reduction in federal student loan limits), campus safety, and Departmental overreach in such areas as teacher education, state authorization and credit hour definitions.

The president threw his own ideas into the mix during his State of the Union address with a proposed reduction in higher education tax benefits and free community college. Neither proposal is expected to take hold in this Congress, although his proposed elimination of certain tax benefits could put currently supported provisions on a future hit list.

The fate of all Congressional action will be highly dependent on presidential politics as both political parties start to jockey for the eventual election of a new president in 2016.

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