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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Reauthorize International Education Programs

Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Advancing International and Foreign Language Education Act (S. 2255) on December 20 to reauthorize the Title VI International Education programs at the Department of Education. The bill is similar to H.R. 4491, which was introduced in the House last fall. Both bills aim to support the existing international education programs at the Department. Both Senate sponsors are members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and may work to incorporate the proposals in the bill into the committee’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. More information can be found in Sen. Young’s press release.

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Posted in Issue 1 (January 9), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Congress Passes Two-Week Stopgap Funding Bill, Returns to Debate Spending and Taxes

Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) on the evening of December 7 to continue federal appropriations through December 22, averting a partial government shutdown. The extension of fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding levels through this CR will give Congress more time to finalize FY 2018 spending and come to agreement on raising spending caps set in place by the Budget Control Act. While the House of Representatives has finished work on all twelve of its spending bills, the Senate has yet to vote on any, referencing a lack of agreement on overall spending levels.

In addition to finalizing spending for the current fiscal year, House and Senate Republicans continue to negotiate differences on their proposed tax overhaul. Debate on taxes and annual appropriations will likely carry them to, if not past, their scheduled Christmas recess. Read more of COSSA’s coverage of the tax debate here and FY 2018 spending here.

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Posted in Issue 24 (December 12), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

House Education and Workforce Committee Introduces Reauthorization of Higher Education Act; Democrats Introduce Competing Title VI Proposal

On December 1, House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA authorizes federal aid programs that support institutions of higher education and postsecondary students. The bill proposes large changes to graduate student loan programs, rolling back regulations on for-profit colleges, and changing the process for applying for federal student aid. Additionally, the bill proposes the elimination of several Title VI-International Education programs and reauthorizes the remaining programs below current levels.

Congress last authorized the Higher Education Act in 2008 and the Senate committee of jurisdiction—the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions—will likely introduce its own bill in the coming year. A summary of the bill,  prepared by the American Council on Education, can be found here. The Coalition for International Education, of which COSSA is a member, sent a letter to leadership of the House Education and Workforce Committee sharing its concerns with the PROSPER Act.

Relatedly, Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Susan Davis (D-CA) introduced a bill on November 30 that would reauthorize only Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Their bill, known as the Advancing International and Foreign Language Education Act, would expand, streamline, and increase funding for existing foreign language and area studies programs and is a stark contrast to the provisions included in the PROSPER Act.

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Posted in Issue 24 (December 12), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Budget Deal to Raise Spending Caps in Negotiation; Senate Releases Remaining Appropriations Bills

Congressional leaders have indicated over the past few weeks that they plan to extend the current continuing resolution under which the government is operating past its December 8 expiration date. Extending the continuing resolution will give Congress more time to wrap up fiscal year (FY) 2018 appropriations and reach a deal to raise spending caps. According to the latest reports, Congressional Republicans are proposing an increase of $54 billion in defense spending and $37 billion in nondefense spending, which includes federal science agencies, for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

While the House of Representatives completed its work on the FY 2018 appropriations in September, the Senate has moved more slowly; only eight of the twelve spending bills have passed the Appropriations Committee, and none have received a vote of the full Senate. The remaining four spending bills were released last week and will likely be considered by the Appropriations committee in the coming days. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) added in his statement regarding the FY 2018 appropriations outlook that the Committee needs a new budget deal to finish their work, as much of their proposed spending is higher than the statutory spending caps in the Budget Control Act.

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Posted in Issue 23 (November 28), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

House and Senate Release Bipartisan Evidence-Based Policymaking Bill

On November 1, members of the House and Senate introduced the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, the “down-payment” legislation that would enact some of the less complicated (and less controversial) recommendations of the report from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (see COSSA’s coverage and statement). The bill was introduced in the House by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) as H.R. 4174 and cosponsored by Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as S. 2046 and cosponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform unanimously approved the House version of the bill on November 2, and the bill is scheduled for consideration by the full chamber on Wednesday, November 15. While the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over the bill (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) has not yet scheduled a markup of the Senate’s bill, Speaker Ryan is reportedly keen to see the legislation enacted by the end of the year, so the bill in the Senate could be attached to “must-pass” legislation, like an appropriations bill. COSSA has joined more than 100 organizations and leaders in a letter in support of the bill. Speaker Ryan and Sen. Murray had also pledged to introduce additional legislation to implement some of the more complex recommendations of the Commission, perhaps next year, although that likely depends on the success of the bill introduced this month.

The bill makes progress towards implementing 13 of the Commission’s recommendations, across the three major themes of the Commission’s report: strengthening privacy protections, improving access to data, and enhancing the government’s evidence-building capacity. Highlights include codifying Statistical Policy Directive #1 (which defines the responsibilities of principal statistical agencies as producers of relevant, timely and objective data while protecting the trust and confidentiality of data providers), mandating that agencies create evidence-building plans, establishing the roles of Chief Evaluation Officers and Chief Data Officers, strengthening the coordinating role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and establishing a uniform process for outside researchers to apply for access to restricted federal data. The bill would also begin the process of examining the feasibility of the National Secure Data Service proposed by the Commission by establishing an Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building. The bill also incorporates a version of the OPEN Government Data Act (H.R. 1770/S. 760), introduced by Rep. Kilmer and Sen. Schatz, which would require that federal agencies make their data public and accessible by default (unless there were compelling reasons not to) and create inventories of federal data.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, which is housing the ongoing activities of the Commission, has published a thorough summary of the bill and cross-referenced the Commission’s recommendations with the provisions in the legislation.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Rep. Lamar Smith, Sen. Jeff Flake Announce Retirement

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a prominent fiscal hawk and critic of President Trump, announced on October 24 that he would not be seeking reelection. In a passionate speech on the Senate floor, Flake criticized the disregard for truth and decency in political discourse. Flake has fought the expansion of the federal government during his tenure, which included issuing “waste books” that critiqued federal spending, including research grants. Flake joined the Senate in 2013 and will serve until January 2019.

Less ceremoniously, on November 2, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, announced his retirement. Smith has served in Congress since 1987 with stints as the Chair of the House Ethics Committee and Judiciary Committee. During his tenure as Chair of the Science Committee, Smith exercised oversight over the National Science Foundation (NSF), and science more broadly, including introducing a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which contained targeted cuts and negative policies of consequence for the social science research community. COSSA worked hard in the intervening years to halt Smith’s efforts targeting social science funding. House Republican rules allow members to serve as chairs of committees for only six years, which would have required Smith to relinquish his Science Committee gavel at the end of the term, even if he did not choose to retire. Smith will serve until January 2019.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

GOP Tax Plan Could Hurt Students, NDD Programs

Several provisions contained in the tax plans rolled out by Republican leadership this month have raised concerns for stakeholder groups that do not normally weigh in on tax policy. The House’s plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) was approved by the Ways and Means Committee on November 9 and is expected to be debated on the House floor later this week. The Senate Finance Committee began its markup of  the Senate plan on Monday and will continue its consideration of the bill today. There are significant differences between the two plans that would need to be worked out during the conference process, and the Senate plan will likely require additional changes in order to gain the support of 51 Republicans. However, Congressional Republicans are facing substantial political pressure to pass a tax plan, and GOP leadership has publicly stated that it hopes to have a plan passed by the end of the year.

Higher education groups have flagged a number of provisions in both proposals that could make undergraduate and graduate education harder to afford and affect colleges and universities’ ability to offer assistance to their students.  Of particular concern is a proposal in the House plan to tax graduate tuition waivers as income—meaning that some graduate students’ taxes could increase by 100 percent or more while they earn the same (generally limited) income.  The House bill would also eliminate the student loan interest deduction as well as several other tax credits for students. While these changes are absent from the Senate bill, the two proposals share other provisions that could affect colleges and universities’ bottom lines, including reducing incentives for charitable giving, an excise tax on endowment earnings at private college and universities, and repealing or reducing the state and local tax deduction, potentially affecting state funding of higher education.

In addition to the impacts on students and higher education institutions, the budget proposals add an estimated $1.5 trillion over ten years to the federal deficit, likely leading to significant cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs down the road, which include research funding. Given that these programs have already seen disproportionate cuts to their budgets in recent years, this is a cause for concern among groups focused on science and research, as well as on other social issues.

COSSA has not issued its own action alert on the tax plan, however we have compiled the following list of resources and information on how to take action prepared by partner organizations:

American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Council on Education

Association of American Medical Colleges and Universities

Association of American Universities

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

Coalition on Human Needs

Council of Graduate Schools

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

National Humanities Alliance

NDD United

Other Resources

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 14), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to “Reform” Federal Research Grant System

On October 18, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing entitled “Broken Beakers: Federal Support for Research.” Following the hearing Sen. Paul introduced the BASIC Research Act (S. 1973) to “reform” the federal research grant system. The bill would alter how grant proposals at all federal research funding agencies are reviewed by adding non-expert members of the public to review panels and requiring all applications for federal research grants to be made public. The bill also proposes the elimination of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an Inspector General that would oversee the entire federal research enterprise.

The controversial legislation, which was summarized in Science magazine, has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee but currently has no cosponsors and an incredibly narrow path to passage. COSSA is watching the legislation and will report if or when action is needed.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Indirect Costs of Research

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held a hearing on October 24 on the role of facilities and administrative costs (also known as indirect costs) in supporting NIH-funded research. The hearing included testimony from Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice President of Research at the University of Oklahoma; Dr. Gary Gilliland, President of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Dr. Bruce Liang, Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine; and Dr. Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Droegemeier’s written testimony included a history of the collaboration between universities and the federal government to support research, trends in facilities and administrative costs over time, and thorough explanation of the importance of federal support for these costs.

Committee leadership, including Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and witnesses agreed that facilities and administrative costs were key to supporting research and should not be arbitrarily restricted. Many committee members agreed with the witnesses that restricting facilities and administrative costs would have a strong negative impact on all research done at universities and that capping the rates at which universities can be reimbursed for these costs should not be used as a budget-cutting measure by Congress or the Administration.

Find more of COSSA’s coverage of facilities and administrative costs here.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Senate Continues Working as To-Do List and Uncertainty Grows

The Senate hopes to pass a budget resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2018 this week while Congress’ to-do list and uncertainty surrounding the FY 2018 spending bills continues to grow. With only 37 working days for the Senate and 28 working days for the House left in the year, Congress hopes to pass a budget resolution, overhaul the tax code, create a plan to fund the government after December 8, and strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling. The House narrowly passed a budget resolution in early October that proposed major cuts to entitlement programs and non-defense discretionary programs, which includes the federal basic science agencies.

Providing more uncertainty for the Senate is the absence of Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) this week as he recovers in Mississippi from a medical issue. Cochran is the chair of the Appropriations Committee and a reliable vote for the Senate’s narrow Republican majority.

Keep up on the latest funding developments on the COSSA website.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 3), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

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