Federal Relations

By Cyndy Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

The 114th Congress Comes to an End
Late last week, the U.S. Senate finally passed the Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY17 to keep the federal government funded and running until April 28, 2017. It wasn’t without challenges: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) led an effort to block the CR in the Senate for failure to fund coal miner health programs. He eventually dropped his objection to move forward on the CR, which passed in the Senate by 63-36. The 114th Congress came to a close after earning the description of “the do-nothing Congress.”
 
Unfortunately, by delaying consideration of the CR until April, it will be difficult for financial aid offices to award financial aid packages to students at such a late date. The CR level-funds most programs, but with a 0.19% cut across the board. The year-long Pell grant program was in the Senate bill and was not included in the CR; luckily, the Pell grant surplus was not used to fund other programs in the CR. On the positive side, the CR contains $4 billion in grant aid for NIH grants, which meets a goal to double research dollars.  
 
The Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions) Committee had planned to develop new language for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) (e.g. proposed eliminations of regulations), but was unable to do so in part because of the political climate. The unexpected evolution of Donald Trump from Republican nominee to President-elect was a key issue on Capitol Hill and permeated consideration of any constructive legislation.
 
Taxes were also supposed to be front and center this year, beginning the arduous task of tax reform. However, given the highly volatile political climate, the tax-writing Committees (House Ways and Means and Senate Finance) opted not to move forward with tax reform.

The House Ways and Means Committee’s focus on institutions of higher education with endowments over $1 billion was also a concern. During a September 13th hearing of the Subcommittee on Tax Policy about reducing college costs, numerous members complained about institutions with endowments over $1 billion, and whether students received enough student aid from those institutions. This issue is yet to be resolved, as there is great concern regarding college costs and general misunderstanding of limitations on endowments.
 
From a funding perspective, it remains to be seen if there will be a budget for FY18 under the new Trump Administration, or whether funding will be stifled substantially due to the return of sequestration in FY18 and potential changes in national priorities.
 
May you and yours have a joyful and meaningful Christmas, and may the New Year be one of good health and productive work on behalf of Jesuit higher education.