The House was in recess this week. The Senate was in session and confirmed Sylvia Burwell to be the next Health and Human Secretary by a surprisingly bipartisan vote, 78-17. Next week, both chambers will be in session.
White House, Democrats Bring College Debt Center Stage
In concert with the White House, Senate Democrats are gearing up to bring student loan legislation to the floor next week as part of their larger "fair shot" agenda.
This past Wednesday, two separate Senate committees held hearings on issues surrounding student loans. One was convened by the Senate Budget Committee and looked at the impact of student loan debt on borrowers and the economy. The other hearing was convened by the Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee, and studied borrowers' experiences with student loan servicing. Thursday at the White House, Second Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan sat down with recent graduates, economists, and education advocates for a roundtable discussion about student loans. As a community college teacher, Dr. Biden applauded Senate Democrats for their student loan refinancing proposal. To set the stage for a big legislative push on the Hill, the President will be hosting a conversation next Tuesday on student loan debt and college affordability through the microblogging platform Tumblr.
Senate Democrats will then take their student loan refinancing bill—The Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act—to the floor at some point in the week. The bill would allow eligible student loan borrowers to refinance their existing federal and private student loans at lower interest rates. Sen. Dick Durbin, who is a sponsor of this legislation, touted the bill while at Urbana last week. Because it would implement the "Buffett rule" to offset refinancing costs, it's very unlikely that House Republicans would consider the measure.
Senate Gets Appropriations Ball Rolling
The Senate Appropriations Committee moved its first FY 2015 funding bill yesterday, beginning with the bill that funds national scientific agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF, funded at $7.2 billion, is $83 million more than the 2014 level, but $154 million less than what the whole House approved last week. It now gets in line for floor consideration.
The subcommittee with jurisdiction over health and education spending is scheduled to mark up its appropriations bill next Tuesday.
In the hopes that more than just the most politically popular bills get through the chamber before the end of the fiscal year, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski has signaled her intent to have multiple appropriations bills bundled together when brought to the Senate floor.
Second Campus Sexual Assault Roundtable Held
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) presided over the second of three planned roundtables Monday to examine issues surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses. The focus of this roundtable centered on the role that Title IX requirements have in addressing sexual violence. Title IX, which is enforced by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), protects individuals from discrimination based on gender in education programs that receive federal financial assistance.
Following the third roundtable, which is scheduled for June 23, Sen. McCaskill intends to release the results from her campus sexual violence survey that was sent to 450 colleges and universities. She also has made it clear that she plans to file legislation later this month.
LaVontae Brooks, OGR's very first Washington intern, started this week. Originally from Chicago, LaVontae is a rising senior studying Agriculture and Consumer Economics at Urbana. On campus, he works as both a resident advisor and a desk clerk for university housing, in addition to numerous leadership activities. Before college, he was selected among all IL-01 high school applicants to be a Congressional page in DC for Rep. Bobby Rush—an enormous honor and accomplishment. He is familiar with DC and the Hill, and already adding value to our federal relations activities. Welcome, LaVontae!
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations