Both the House and the Senate will be in session next week.
Appropriations Picture Grim, Stopgap 'CR' Likely
While the government remains funded until Sept. 30—the end of the fiscal year—only two legislative weeks remain before the House and Senate empty for the August recess. Still incomplete: all 12 spending bills.
In the House, it was confirmed this week that the Appropriations Committee will not even take up the Labor-HHS spending bill, the largest domestic spending bill that funds the Department of Education and the National Institutes for Health. On the brighter side, an $8 million proposed cut to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was restored by the full committee this week, pleasing NEH advocates.
The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, led by Chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), increased support for research and provided a 5 percent increase for the DoD’s core medical research budget. But the outlook in the full chamber is not nearly so rosy. While the House has passed a majority of its 12 spending bills, the Senate has yet to pass a single one due to procedural disputes with Republicans.
With a growing pile of work left unfinished, including reauthorizing the highway trust fund bill and emergency spending on resources to address the crisis at the southern border—and with the politics of an election year to boot—it is looking less likely than ever that the chambers will complete any of the spending bills before August. This will be further complicated by how the country and Congress responds to the downed Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukrainian airspace.
Whether it does so this month or in September, Congress will need to begin considering how it wants to proceed on a stop-gap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, and complete it no later than Sept. 30 to keep the government open and the agencies operating.
House Approves 'Easy' Science Bills
The House of Representives easily approved several science-related authorization bills with broad support this week. Two of the measures were noncontroversial portions of Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) larger bill, the FIRST Act (H.R. 4186): one fosters international science and technology collaboration; the other adds computer science to federal STEM definitions. A third bill, introduced by UI alum Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), calls for the National Science and Technology Council to review the regulatory burden of federally sponsored research. The University of Illinois, along with our peer institutions and AAU and APLU, remains opposed to the broader FIRST Act because it lacks vision and robust funding levels; slashes funding for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences at NSF, and adds unnecessary new grant conditions that would circumvent NSF's esteemed peer review process.
A bill to reauthorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology will be taken up next week.
House Votes to Permanently Extend 'IRA Rollover'
By a vote of 277-130, the House passed legislation authored by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) to permanently extend the IRA Charitable Rollover. The IRA Rollover, which is a key legislative priority for the University of Illinois Foundation, allows U.S. taxpayers ages 70 ½ and older to donate up to $100,000 from their IRAs to public charities, including colleges and universities, without having to count the distributions as taxable income. OGR flagged UI's support for the measure with the entire Illinois House delegation.
UIF President Thomas J. Farrell welcomed the development. "Our state's challenging fiscal situation, paired with the uncertainty and decline in state support over the last decade, necessitates every method available to encourage private giving," said Farrell, in a quote that was featured in Rep. Schock's press release.
The bill was supported by every Republican in the delegation, including Urbana and UIS hometown Rep. Rodney Davis. Because the extension was packaged with other tax breaks that were not paid for, most of the delegation's Democrats withheld support for the package. But their opposition was not without exception: Reps. Cheri Bustos, Bill Enyart, Bill Foster, Dan Lipinski, and Brad Schneider—many of whom have competitive races in the fall—voted in favor.
House Will Take Up Several Higher Ed Bills Next Week
Rep. Danny Davis' student tax benefits consolidation bill—the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act—will be voted upon by the full House next week. While the bill's simplification of myriad tax incentives is a positive step forward, universities remain concerned that graduate students and "lifelong learners" would no longer benefit from the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). We will continue working with other universities to express our concerns.
The full House is also supposed to take its first votes on bills relating to the Higher Education Act (HEA). In keeping with House Education Committee Chairman John Kline's desire to reauthorize HEA piecemeal, the House will vote on two bills next week: the first bill would allow the Department of Education to implement competency-based education demonstration projects; the second bill would expand financial counseling requirements for Pell Grant and federal loan recipients. Narrow in scope, and largely uncontroversial, the bills are expected to pass with bipartisan support.
This week, Cora Marrett, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation and former Acting Director, announced she will be retiring from NSF next month. Dr. Marrett most recently visited our Urbana campus at the launch of the Blue Waters supercomputer in March 2013. Dr. Marrett has been with NSF for more than two decades. It is not yet clear who will be tapped to serve in the Deputy Director role after Dr. Marrett’s retirement.
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations