Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

Congress Pushing Forward on a Budget
While the nation is focused on the presidential election in one of the more unusually volatile political years, the U.S. House of Representatives has been battling behind the scenes to produce a budget for FY17. On the Senate side, Budget Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) has repeatedly said that there is no reason to do this, as last year’s budget agreement included funding levels for FY17.

Yet in spite of disagreements with the more conservative House Freedom Caucus, the House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) released the budget proposal for FY17 on Tuesday, and proceeded with a markup. Cuts of $877 billion are suggested for non-defense discretionary funding between FY18 and FY2026.

AJCU joins the higher education community in opposition to this budget, which cuts education funding substantially over a period of 10 years, including the Pell grant program, which is proposed to stay at the current maximum level of $5,815 per year. In essence, the budget suggests total elimination of Pell grant mandatory funding. Pell grants would thus be completely funded on the discretionary side, which is hard pressed to maintain funding for other current education programs, much less provide billions more to fund the Pell Grant program.

The budget proposes eliminating the In-School Subsidy Loan program for undergraduates, and proposes scaling back the Income Based Repayment (IBR) program, which would make a number of students ineligible for this benefit. These alterations would continue to affect undergraduate students who would have to seek private loans that historically have higher interest rates.

Beyond higher education, the budget proposes total elimination of what is known as the “Obamacare” insurance program, and cutting Medicare through a proposed voucher system. Many of these program changes would need to authorized by committee and approved by the President.

We assume this budget will pass markup today, but it remains to be seen how it can pass in the House with opposition from both the Freedom Caucus and Democrats. Even if this budget does not pass in the House, the majority party will have to address these issues further through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and beyond. AJCU will continue to work on these issues to protect opportunities for all students to attend college.

Appropriations for FY17—What Will Happen?
Once again, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), have both emphasized getting back to the “general order of business.” If there is no budget agreement by May 15, appropriators can move forward with the appropriations process. 

Both the House and Senate Subcommittees on Labor, H&HS and Education Appropriations have given deadlines for Members to submit their funding requests. March is the month for producing letters of support.

AJCU is joining the American Council on Education's (ACE) letter of support for student aid and institutional funding requests. In the Senate, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is soliciting signatures of support for Campus-Based Aid funding. In the House, efforts are underway for Members to sign a letter initiated by Representatives Joe Crowley (D-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) on Campus-Based Aid. Jesuit institutions are encouraged to ask their Members of Congress to sign these letters to continue the momentum in support of Campus-Based-Aid programs.