Next week marks the final week before both chambers recess for the August work period.
The focus: red meat for each party's base. The House is expected to take up its highly publicized lawsuit against President Obama for exceeding his constitutional authority, while the Senate will try to roll back tax incentives that permit offshoring.
Advanced Manufacturing Bill Moves in Key House Committee
This morning, the full House Science Commmittee reported favorably the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act, legislation which would authorize additional advanced manufacturing institutes, such as UI LABS' Digital Manufacturing Design and Innovation Institute (DMDII). The legislation seeks to foster public-private partnerships nationally, focusing on commercializing new domestic manufacturing technologies, training a modern manufacturing workforce, and leveraging the financial investments of industry, which need new technologies and a skilled workforce to remain globally competitive. Changes at today's markup align the funding levels between the House and Senate bills and specifically sweep existing hubs, like Chicago's Digital Lab, into the national network.
Because Chicago's Digital Lab will serve as the digital "nerve center" that connects the national network, its relevance will only be enhanced with additional congressionally authorized hubs. UI President Robert Easter endorsed this legislation in April with a letter of support.
Higher Ed Bills Advance, Hit Senate Wall
The House took small steps forward this week on a series of bills that would impact universities and students. However, they will all likely stall in a bogged-down Senate, which has reached historic levels of partisan gridlock.
On the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization front, the House approved three narrow bills with broad bipartisan support. The bills authorize competency-based education pilots, replace the College Navigator website with a consumer-tested College Dashboard website, and increase financial aid counseling requirements for federal loan and Pell grant recipients. But Senate HELP Committee Chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), wants to move comprehensive, not piecemeal, legislation. So the House bills will serve as placeholders for future HEA conversations next session.
The House passed the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act, a student tax benefits consolidation bill sponsored by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL). The bill is a mixed bag: while it would simplify myriad tax incentives for higher education, it would remove tax breaks for gradutate students, lifelong learners, and non-traditional students who might take longer to earn a degree. The White House and a majority of House Democrats opposed the bill because its costs were not offset by revenue increases. Even Rep. Danny Davis, the bill's original sponsor, opposed moving the bill in isolation of comprehensive tax reforms because it was not possible to "ensure that groups of taxpayers who may lose out in one section are helped in others." The Senate is unlikely to take up the bill, so it too will serve as a placeholder for future tax reform discussions in the next Congress.
Strong Senate COMPETES Bill Debuts
Much to our community's relief, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee released draft reauthorization legislation for the America COMPETES Act that provides a strong vision for our nation's scientific enterprise. The bill reauthorizes many of the scientific agencies important to research universities: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as federal STEM education programs. Unlike the House's version, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, the Senate legislation boosts funding for NSF and supports research across all spectrums, including social, behavioral, and economics (SBE) research. It is largely consistent with the guiding principles signed last year by more than 100 organizations, including the University of Illinois.
Meanwhile, the House passed two additional non-controversial science bills broken out of the controversial FIRST Act, including a measure that reauthorizes NIST at current funding levels. Like the bills passed last week and the higher ed and tax bills this week, the Senate is unlikely to move them, eschewing piecemeal bills for a comprehensive bill with more robust funding levels.
MESSAGING OPPORTUNITY: INNOVATION DEFICIT
Next Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of the strategic messaging campaign spearheaded by our higher ed community to "close the innovation deficit." The innovation deficit is the widening gap between the actual level of federal government funding for research and higher education and what the investment needs to be if the United States is to remain the world’s innovation leader. This campaign has been successfully picked up in the news and by Members of Congress.
OGR Federal Relations and our peers will be amplifying the message on Twitter using the hashtag #innovationdeficit and #sciencematters. We encourage you to join this national conversation your own social media networks. Please contact us if you'd like to collaborate around social media activity about the need to preserve strong, sustained federal funding for higher education and research.
Urbana College of Media's John Paul was in DC this week to meet with current students interning at the Washington Post, the Brookings Institution, National Geographic, and WTOP radio, among others. He also scouted additional opportunities for future students with new and traditional media, associations, and congressional offices.
Lizanne Destefano, who leads Urbana's I-STEM Education Initiative—a coalition to facilitate STEM outreach, improve STEM teacher training, and advocate for STEM education policies—participated in a STEM education conference convened by the Association of American Universities that engaged national thought leaders and federal policymakers.
Of ten projects selected for funding this week by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for biomass genomics research, two were awarded to researchers from Urbana. The two proposals, led by Patrick Brown and Erik Sacks, will both be funded by DOE under its Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, and will total $1.34 million and $1.5 million respectively. Congratulations, Professors Brown and Sacks!
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations