Federal Relations

By Cynthia Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

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Mid Term Surprises
The November 6 mid-term elections led to a surprise “blue wave” across the nation. Democrats won control of the U.S. House of Representatives while Republicans retained control of the U.S. Senate by wider margins than in the 115th Congress. Two races are still outstanding: one in the House and one in the Senate. As of this writing, House Democrats have acquired 39 new seats and Senate Republicans lead by 52 seats.

House Republicans will be led by Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Minority Leader. In the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will remain Majority Leader and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will remain Minority Leader. The House Democratic Caucus will convene on November 28 to choose the next Speaker; at this point, the only confirmed candidate is Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who previously served as Speaker (and was the first woman to hold the position) from 2007 to 2011. The final confirmation of the Speaker will occur on January 3, 2019 after a vote on the House Floor.

Under new Democratic leadership, the House will focus on keeping the Affordable Care Act; protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions; improving infrastructure; passing the Dream Act and trade policies; and increasing funding for education. With the change in control comes a change in Committee chairs. The Appropriations Subcommittee will now be chaired by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a Jesuit alum, who has long shown concern for student loan debt and abuses. The House Education and Workforce Committee will now be led by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) (also a Jesuit alum), who will seek to pass the Aim Higher Act during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).

We anticipate that these new chairs will make Higher Education policy front and center in the House through an increase in hearings by the Education and Workforce Committee and their work on HEA. On the Senate side, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee will still be chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN); Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will remain as ranking member.

AJCU will release its list of Jesuit alumni serving in the 116th Congress during the first week of January. If you know of alumni who were elected on November 6, please write to me at CyndyLit@aol.com.

Regulatory Push
The U.S. Department of Education is pushing for negotiated rulemaking sessions on a multitude of issues, including Teach Grants and other student aid programs. AJCU nominated a member of our Federal Relations Network to sit on the Subcommittee on Faith-Based Institutions. Nominees will be selected soon for hearings that will begin in January.

Right before Thanksgiving, the Department released a draft of changes to Title IX on sexual harassment and assault. As soon as the draft regulations appear in the Federal Register, there will be a sixty-day deadline to provide comments to the Department.

This Title IX draft offers more protections for alleged suspects in cases of sexual assault; in the previous iteration, more focus was given to victims. Overall, the draft does try to establish a courtroom-like setting with cross-examination requirements. Some positive developments include mediation and a sensitivity to faith-based institutions. But there are many more reporting requirements, which will be costly for institutions.

AJCU will continue to work with the Department of Education to develop Title IX regulations that will hopefully strike a balance for students from all perspectives. We will continue to report on these developments in the months to come.

Lame-Duck Session
Congress returned on November 27 to consider seven remaining appropriations bills. A Continuing Resolution (CR) is keeping the government running until December 7. President Trump continues to insist on funding for the border wall and, once again, has threatened to shut down the government after the 7th, should funding not be received. Should the government shut down, education funding would be protected as the House Labor, H&HS and Education bill was signed into law before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2018.