Lawmakers returned to Washington either frustrated or energized by President Obama's executive action on immigration. How would that order impact the path forward for the end of the year? Left undone: important work on the budget, expiring tax breaks, and the defense authorization bill.
Appropriations Outlook Brightens
Congress must still act before Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Will Congress kick the can down the road with another stopgap spending bill that keeps federal agencies on autopilot until a new Congress convenes? Or will this Congress complete its work with a comprehensive spending bill that funds education and research priorities through September?
The answers to these questions are still unclear. But this week it became clear that the leadership and appropriations committees in both chambers are pushing for that best-case scenario—an omnibus appropriations bill—to avoid a shutdown and clear the decks for a fresh start in the 114th Congress. The House voted this week on a largely symbolic measure as a rebuke to the president's executive action on immigration. It may try to rein in the Department of Homeland Security, which is tasked with most immigration responsibilities, in any year-end funding bill.
House leaders are scrambling to come up with the votes necessary to pass the package next week. It will likely require support by both parties in both chambers, but it is a positive sign that Congress is still moving in this direction.
Key Tax Provisions for Universities Extended for One Year
The House passed a bill this week that extends for one year a series of expired or expiring tax benefits. The package included an extension of the following tax provisions important to the higher education community:
- Student tax benefits: It extends the tuition and fees deduction that allows eligible individuals to deduct qualified education expenses.
- IRA charitable rollover: A priority for the University of Illinois Foundation, the IRA Rollover allows American taxpayers ages 70 ½ and older the ability to donate up to $100,000 from their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to public charities—including colleges and universities—without having to treat the distributions as taxable income.
- R&D tax credit: The research and development (R&D) tax credit gives industry a credit for qualified research expenses and incentivizes them to partner with universities.
Ash Carter Nominated to Lead Pentagon
Following last week's announcement that Chuck Hagel would be stepping down from his post as Secretary of Defense, President Obama officially nominated Ashton Carter. Carter—who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2011-2013—enjoys bipartisan support and is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.
More importantly, Carter is a science and technology policy wonk. He will join Defense Deputy Secretary Robert Work—an Urbana alum—as the two top DOD leaders. Both Carter and Work have a strong appreciation for the role of university research in defense.
Confucius Institute Under Congressional Microscope
The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday to examine American universities' relationships with China. It heard from critics Thursday who question the influence of the Confucius Institute—the Chinese government’s language and culture program that aims to project a positive image of the nation—that operates in 100 U.S. schools, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Critics say Chinese faculty threaten American academic freedom by avoiding controversial subjects like human rights.
Allen-Meares Attends Second White House College Access Summit
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares was at the White House yesterday to participate in the College Opportunity Day of Action, a high-profile event with other university presidents, chancellors, and education leaders. The event is part of the Administration's effort to increase college opportunity, particularly for low-income and underrepresented students, and aligns with President Obama's goal of America leading the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and First Lady Michelle Obama made remarks.
The administration unveiled 600 commitments—two involving UIC—and all geared towards helping more students prepare for and graduate from college. UIC's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which serves UIC women majoring in STEM fields, pledged to increase the number of women in its mentoring program by 20 percent in 2015.
A consortium of federally-designated Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI's) institutions, including UIC, will work collaboratively to increase the number of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) college graduates by 2025. Click here to read more in the UIC NEWS press release.
The event was the second of its kind—the first summit was held this past January. Although the University of Illinois did not have representatives at the first summit, following the event, Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre wrote to the White House to inform them about initiatives that all three of our campuses were taking to support low-income students.
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas | OGR Federal Relations