The House and Senate are in session next week and will consider appropriations bills.
Student Debt Gets Political
President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats joined forces this week to elevate student debt as a top midterm pocketbook issue. On Monday, the president signed an executive order that will allow millions of additional borrowers to cap their monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. He also used social media to talk about college affordability and student loans, while Education Secretary Arne Duncan and new higher ed Under Secretary Ted Mitchell probed similar topics at a town hall.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans expectedly stymied a Democratic attempt to bring a student loan debt refinancing bill to the floor. Republicans said the bill, which would undo last year’s bipartisan compromise on student loans that prevented the rate from doubling but keyed it to the market, was not serious because it would be paid for by a tax on the wealthy. Sen. Dick Durbin, who promoted the measure recently in Urbana, issued a press release following the vote expressing his disappointment, which you can read here. Senate Democrats have since proclaimed that they intend to bring the bill back to the floor in September as part of another education-centered week. AAU and APLU endorsed the bill this week.
Mixed News for Universities in Appropriations Bills
A key Senate subcommittee advanced a health and education funding bill with plenty of good news for universities: increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to $30.5 billion, a $100 annual increase to the maximum Pell Grant, and partially restored funding to federal work study and other programs cut by sequestration. However, the bill was unexpectedly pulled by the full committee when Senate Republicans offered politically perilous votes on the Affordable Care Act. Later, Sen. Lamar Alexander, a powerful appropriator, announced he also intended to ban federal funding from being used to implement the President's proposed college rating system. A similar bipartisan effort exists in the House.
Meanwhile, a key House Appropriations subcommittee approved a slight increase to the DOE Office of Science, while another would decrease funding for research and development within the Department of Defense.
Political Earthquake Rattles Immigration Reform Prospects, Ignites Leadership Scramble
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's unprecedented fall from grace rocked the DC political establishment this week, casting a long shadow over the already slim chances of an immigration reform deal this Congress. Defeated in the Virginia primary by Tea Party upstart (and college professor) Dave Brat, this marked the first time a sitting Majority Leader lost to a primary challenger. Brat attacked Cantor for being out of sync with his conservative district, offering up the former Majority Leader’s support for a watered down version of the DREAM Act as proof. Some pundits proclaimed the end of the line for immigration reform. Others say primary victories by reform champions like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) show this is overblown. Congress' most vocal proponent for comprehensive immigration reform, Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez claimed: "Immigration reform is not dead. It might just be moving to the White House for action if none comes from this House." It does now seem unlikely the House will move any controversial measures before November’s midterm elections.
Cantor’s defeat also set in motion a series of leadership races, which will further distract the Republican leadership and conference during the summer legislative home stretch. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the current Majority Whip, appears to have locked in enough votes to ascend one spot to Majority Leader, leaving a vacancy for Whip sought by Illinois Republican Peter Roskam. At least two others have announced they will square off on Thursday’s leadership election against Roskam, currently the Chief Deputy Whip.
ILLINOIS IN DC
UIS' Office of Development, the University of Illinois Alumni Association, and UIS Chancellor Susan Koch’s office hosted a “Network & Learn” event at DC's illustrious Willard Hotel Wednesday evening, which was widely attended by more than 80 UIS alumni and friends from the DC area. UIS Associate Chancellor for Alumni Relations Chuck Schrage and UIS Vice Chancellor for Development Jeff Lorber updated the DC crowd on the latest from Springfield and presented alumna Barbara Burkhardt with an alumni loyalty award. Featured speaker Dr. Michael Burlingame, a Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies, imparted upon the attendees his vast knowledge (and many humorous and humanizing insights) about President Abraham Lincoln and how his legacy relates to the modern world.
Merle Giles, Director of Economic Impact and Private Sector Partnerships for Urbana's National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), presented alongside other Illinois high performance computing (HPC) industry leaders at a congressional staff briefing hosted by the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC). The briefing, sponsored by Illinois Reps. Randy Hultgren, Dan Lipinski, and Robin Kelly, explored how supercomputing partnerships with industry spark economic development. Giles spoke about NCSA's leadership in providing HPC infrastructure and expertise to companies seeking to do research, design and production. He also touched on the economic impact that supercomputing has in Illinois and across the world.
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations