The House and Senate are both in session next week, with the Senate expected to take up student loan interest rate legislation.
Contentious NSF Bill Clears Committee on Party-Line Vote
A bill that reshuffled funding for National Science Foundation directorates and alters its grant making process passed the House Science Committee Wednesday on a straight party-line vote, after being held over from last week. Dubbed the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act, the bill would—for the first time—fund NSF research directorates individually, shifting resources away from social, behavioral, and economics (SBE) research into those for the physical sciences and engineering. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) claimed the SBE directorate had funded too many questionable grants and that Congress needs to set priorities in a tight budgetary environment. The bill provoked strong opposition from the National Science Board, academic leaders, professional societies, and universities, including the University of Illinois. Among the Illinois delegation, Rep. Randy Hultgren supported the bill, while Reps. Dan Lipinski and Robin Kelly opposed it.
The Senate has not yet announced its plans to move its companion legislation, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. It is not clear if the House leadership will bring the FIRST Act to the Floor this year.
House Approves FY’15 Funding for Science Agencies
This morning, the House overwhelmingly approved funding for the Commerce Justice Science spending bill, which includes funding for NSF, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and other agencies. Importantly, NSF was funded at $7.4 billion—higher than last year’s bill and the President’s budget request. Echoing the debate in the House Science committee he chairs, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) passed an amendment to remove, then replace, more than $15 million from NSF’s research account. While his intent was to take funding away from social, behavioral, and economic research and to redirect it to physical sciences and engineering, his amendment ultimately may prove futile since the bill does not seek to fund the agency directorate by directorate. Another amendment de-funded a specific climate change grant.
Senate CJS Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced that her subcommittee will mark up the bill next week.
Permanent Extension of IRA Rollover Clears Key Committee
The House Ways and Means Committee Thursday approved four additional tax extender bills, including one offered by Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock that would make permanent the IRA charitable rollover provision. The bill allows taxpayers to transfer some funds from their individual retirement accounts to qualified charities without it counting toward one’s adjusted gross income. The University of Illinois Foundation has long supported this tax provision because it preserves incentives for charitable giving by taxpayers of all ages. The provision cleared a key Senate committee earlier this spring, but plans to reach the floor in either chamber are not yet clear.
ILLINOIS IN DC
UI President Robert Easter led 12 deans, vice chancellors, and other emerging leaders from Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield to Washington, DC this week as part of his President's Executive Leadership Program. The two-day visit provided participants with greater exposure to the university’s federal priorities as well as the policymaking process in Washington.
On Wednesday, the group met with more than 25 alumni from all three UI campuses that currently work in legislative offices on the Hill. Rep. Rodney Davis—who represents our campuses in Urbana and Springfield in the House—welcomed the group and explained how his office works with UI to advance its priorities. On Thursday, the group met with senior staff for the dean of Illinois’ congressional delegation—Sen. Dick Durbin—who described the legislative climate, appropriations process, and higher education challenges that will face future leaders. The group also heard from presidents of several higher education associations. AAU President Hunter Rawlings described challenges facing research institutions, AASCU President Muriel Howard emphasized student access challenges in an environment of decreasing state appropriations, while APLU President Peter McPherson explored accountability and the Obama Administration college rating system. David Bergeron—Vice President for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress and a former lieutenant to former Higher Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter—walked the leaders through the Dept. of Education’s regulatory priorities. Later that evening, they had a chance to engage with DC-area alumni at a dinner event that included the leadership of the DC Illini Club.
The President’s Executive Leadership Fellows included: Dimitri Azar (UIC), Karen Colley (UIC), Benet DeBerry-Spence (UIC), Larry DeBrock (Urbana), James Ermatinger (UIS), Clarice Ford (UIS), Barbara Henley (UIC), Mary Kalantzis (Urbana), Michael Mikhail (UIC), Renee Romano (Urbana), Astrida Orle Tantillo (UIC), and Jorge Villegas (UIS). Also accompanying the group was Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre, Special Assistant to the President Mike Devocelle, Senior Advisor to the President Jim Oliver, and Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Dedra Williams.
CONGRESS ON CAMPUS
Sen. Dick Durbin took to the South Lounge of the Illini Union Wednesday to promote legislation he favors to reduce student loan debt. The bill, Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act, would allow eligible individuals with outstanding student loan debt to refinance their loans (federal and private) at the lower interest rates presently offered to new borrowers as a result of last summer's student loan interest rate deal. The Senate will vote on the bill after it returns next week.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise welcomed Sen. Durbin to campus and thanked him for advocating for students. Sen. Durbin spoke about the merits of the legislation, while a recent graduate and rising senior shared their personal student loan anxieties. Dan Mann, Urbana's Director of Financial Aid, described the university's efforts to make college more affordable, including ensuring that students have access to low-cost loans. Urbana's student loan default rates and debt load are both below the national average. The press conference was covered by the News-Gazette and others. Read the full article here.
Photo: John Dixon, News-Gazette
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a proposal led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was awarded federal funding to develop new online decision tools to enable farmers to make informed choices about Farm Bill programs. Urbana's College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) has been a longtime leader in providing agriculture stakeholders with web-based educational resources, particularly through its farmdoc platform. Urbana will serve as the lead institution for the National Coalition for Producer Education, a consortium that will ensure that farmers in Illinois, the nation, and throughout the world can optimize their farm program and risk management decisions.
The proposal had solid support from the Illinois delegation. OGR is grateful for the support letters that were submitted by Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, Rep. Rodney Davis, and Rep. Cheri Bustos and Rep. Bill Enyart. Congratulations to Jonathan Coppess, who put together the proposal, as well as ACES Dean Robert Hauser!
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations