DC Digest - July 29, 2011
In Today's Issue:
- Congressional Leadership Scrambles to Pass Debt Ceiling Legislation
- Boehner, Reid Debt Ceiling Proposals Treat Higher Education Differently
- Deal or No Deal - Pell Grants in the Budget Mix
- As Graduate-Student Population Grows, So Does Reliance on Student Aid
- A Partial G.I. Bill Fix
- Judge Rules in Favor of Administration in Stem Cell Research Suit
- Coalition Letter to Appropriators Defends NIH Merit Review
- Two Duke Alums To Serve on White House Accountability and Transparency Board
- Science Committee Democrats Issue Report Responding to Coburn Report on NSF
- State Department Names New Science and Technology Adviser
- Department of Ed Issues Guidance on Campus Emergencies
CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP SCRAMBLES TO PASS DEBT CEILING LEGISLATION
The August 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department for raising the national debt limit is four days away, and it is unclear whether the House and Senate can agree on legislation (S. 627) that the President is willing to sign. The House delayed a vote originally scheduled for last night on Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) package of spending cuts and debt ceiling increases, because Speaker Boehner apparently did not have enough votes in the Republican caucus to pass this version of the legislation. Today he amended his proposal to make a proposed second increase in the debt, needed to take the issue past 2012, contingent upon Congress passing and sending to the states a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. The House passed the bill this evening on a vote of 218-210.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), having made clear that the Boehner plan is dead on arrival in the Senate, is pursuing his own plan for breaking the impasse, although he, too, will need to make changes to have a chance to gain the 60 votes he needs for Senate passage. He is reportedly consulting with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on how to move forward. Senator McConnell has been publicly backing Speaker Boehner’s efforts. The White House is consulting with Congressional Democrats privately and publicly exhorting Congress to act. The President, while also making clear that he would not sign the Boehner legislation, is not publicly offering any specific solutions.
Neither the White House nor federal agencies have provided any information on how the federal government would operate if the debt ceiling were reached, forcing the government to rely solely on current revenues, with no new borrowing. The conventional wisdom is that the Treasury Department would pay interest owed to creditors and spend whatever was necessary to ensure national security. The White House reportedly is working on a contingency plan. If this happens, Duke officials will assess the potential impact on university budgets once the contingency plans are made public.
BOEHNER, REID DEBT CEILING PROPOSALS TREAT HIGHER EDUCATION DIFFERENTLY
The competing plans for reducing budget deficits and raising the federal debt ceiling issued by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) both would have important effects on higher education.
• Both plans would eliminate the ability of graduate and professional students to take out subsidized Stafford loans, beginning on July 1, 2012. This proposal was also included in the President’s FY12 budget. The Boehner plan, however, contains exemptions relating to students taking prerequisite coursework for degrees or certificate programs and students in programs leading to teaching certification.
• Both plans include mandatory spending to help fill the funding gap in the Pell Grant program. The Boehner plan provides $9 billion in mandatory spending in FY12 and $8 billion in FY13. The Reid proposal includes $10.5 billion in mandatory funds in FY12 and $7.5 billion in FY13. Thus, the House plan is $2 billion short of filling the current Pell Grant gap, while the Senate plan is only short $.5 billion.
• The Boehner plan sunsets the Secretary of Education’s authority to provide incentives for on-time repayment of students loans on July 1, 2012, and it prohibits the creation of any such incentives, with one exception for borrowers who make electronic payments. The Reid plan does not contain a similar provision.
OFR is monitoring the situation and will provide a report on how higher education will be impacted by any final passage.
DEAL OR NO DEAL - PELL GRANTS IN THE BUDGET MIX
As Washington hurtles toward August 2, the House and Senate leadership continues to work on a debt ceiling and deficit reduction deal to avert a domestic and global economic crisis. A key pawn in the negotiations is Pell Grant funding. Plans from both House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) include funding for the Pell Grant program for the 2012-13 award year.
The House bill was not brought up for a vote Thursday night as expected, and Friday's news reports in The Hill and on NPR cite Pell Grant funding as one of the concerns. While much of the higher ed community is disappointed that the increase for Pell is paid for by the elimination of the in-school interest for graduate student loans, this proposal was first made in President Obama's FY 2012 budget as an option to help maintain funding for a $5,550 maximum grant, and congressional leaders have since agreed to support this elimination.
Deal or No Deal - Pell Grants in the Budget Mix (NAICU)
AS GRADUATE-STUDENT POPULATION GROWS, SO DOES RELIANCE ON STUDENT AID
The nation's growing number of graduate students, gravitating particularly toward master's-degree programs in business and education, are leaning heavily on loans and grants to pay for their education, says a report released this week by the U.S. Department of Education.
As Graduate-Student Population Grows, So Does Reliance on Student Aid (Chronicle of HigherEd)
A PARTIAL G.I. BILL FIX
Veterans currently attending private colleges and universities that charge more than $17,500 in tuition and fees wouldn't see their tuition spike next month after all, under a change to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill awaiting final passage in Congress. But even once that bill is approved, veterans using their benefits to attend public universities in states where they are not residents would still have to come up with thousands of dollars on their own to pay for their studies after Aug. 1.
A Partial G.I. Bill Fix (InsideHigherEd)
Post 9/11 GI Bill "Hold-Harmless" Passed by Congress, Moves to President (NAICU)
JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF ADMINISTRATION IN STEM CELL RESEARCH SUIT
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled in favor of the Obama Administration on Wednesday in the continuing lawsuit over federal funding of human embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, dismissing the case brought by two adult stem cell scientists and allowing federal funding to continue unabated.
Judge Lamberth initially dismissed the case nearly two years ago for lack of standing on the part of the plaintiffs, but the Court of Appeals overturned that ruling last April. Upon reexamining the case, Lamberth surprised the research community by finding in favor of the plaintiffs and ordering an immediate halt of federal ESC funding through a preliminary injunction. The Court of Appeals then overturned the injunction, allowing funding to move forward, but consideration of the merits of the case remained in the lower court. Judge Lamberth ruled today on the merits of the case.
The plaintiffs presented two arguments in opposition to federal funding of ESC research. First, they argued that ESC research funding violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which is attached to the bill that funds NIH each year and forbids federal funds from being used for destruction of embryos. Judge Lamberth ruled that, because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and does not specifically apply to ESC, NIH’s interpretation that the provision allows funding of ESC research was reasonable. The plaintiffs’ second argument was that in promulgating guidelines for conduct of ESC research, in which public comment was requested on the content of the guidelines, NIH violated the Administrative Procedures Act because the agency ignored comments that stated the government should not fund ESC research at all. The judge found that NIH acted correctly in gauging those comments to be irrelevant, since the question asked was not whether the government should fund such research, but under what ethical guidelines it should move forward.
While this represents an important victory for the research community, it must be noted that there is still some cause for concern. The plaintiffs have 60 days to appeal the ruling, so there may be additional action in the lawsuit.
In addition, as part of today’s ruling, Judge Lamberth reaffirmed the Court of Appeals finding which granted standing to the plaintiffs based on competitive disadvantage stating, “[b]ecause there is a fixed amount of money available for research grants, and because the Guidelines will increase the number of grant applications involving embryonic stem cells” the plaintiffs have a smaller pool of funds available to them for which to compete. This remains a troubling precedent, since it implies that decisions made by NIH to direct funding towards one type of research versus another could be subject to a lawsuit.
Victory for Stem Cell Research: Court Backs Obama's Guidelines (Christian Science Monitor)
COALITION LETTER TO APPROPRIATORS DEFENDS NIH MERIT REVIEW
More than 80 associations and universities have sent a letter to House appropriators defending the peer review process at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and urging them to resist efforts to defund or attack specific NIH grants in the debate over FY12 appropriations for the agency.
The letter, organized by the Coalition to Promote Research (CPR) and dated July 26, 2011, was sent to Reps. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee.
The CPR letter follows a recent report by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), which singled out NIH grants related to sexuality and drug abuse as wastes of taxpayer dollars. The TVC is calling on Congress to “enforce a moratorium on NIH grant-making while a special prosecutor or another impartial investigator conducts a full review of the NIH budget.” This is not the first time the TVC has questioned NIH funding of research projects related to homosexuality and sexually transmitted diseases; the group launched a similar campaign in 2003.
Coalition Letter Defending NIH Merit Review (pdf)
TWO DUKE ALUMS TO SERVE ON WHITE HOUSE ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY BOARD
On Thursday, the Obama Administration announced the launch of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. The Board, first announced by the President and Vice President in June as part of the Campaign to Cut Waste, will focus on rooting out misspent tax dollars and making government spending more accessible and transparent for the American people. Yesterday, the President named several of the nation’s top watchdogs and leaders on government accountability to the board, which will be led by interim chairman Earl Devaney.
Daniel I. Werfel, Controller at the Office of Management and Budget, and Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General at the Department of Transportation, are two Duke alums whom President Obama appointed to the board.
White House Launches Government Accountability and Transparency Board to Cut Waste and Boost Accountability (WhiteHouse.gov)
SCIENCE COMMITTEE DEMOCRATS ISSUE REPORT RESPONDING TO COBURN REPORT ON NSF
The Democratic staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has issued a report, entitled “Out of Focus,” that responds in detail to “Under the Microscope,” the critical report on the National Science Foundation issued earlier this year by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).
In a letter accompanying the report, the staff writes: “The National Science Foundation is one of the best managed agencies in the Federal government, with very low overhead and a very aggressive Inspector General working to keep NSF focused on those areas that need improvement. While the search for duplication and savings is important, the Senate report contributes nothing new to the discussion, and gets much wrong along the way.”
Out of Focus: A Critical Assessment of the Senate Report, "Under the Microscope" (democrats.science.house.gov)
STATE DEPARTMENT NAMES NEW SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY ADVISER
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 22 named Dr. E. William (Bill) Colglazier as her Science & Technology Adviser. Congress established the position of Science & Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State in 2000; Dr. Colglazier is the fourth individual to hold the position.
Dr. Colglazier’s most recent position was Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences and Chief Operating Officer of the National Research Council. He holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the California Institute of Technology and was formerly a Professor of Physics at the University of Tennessee.
In a notice to staff, the State Department noted that the mission of the Office of the Science & Technology Adviser is “to serve the U.S. national interest by promoting global scientific and technological progress as integral components of U.S. diplomacy including building partnerships with the national and international scientific communities.”
DEPARTMENT OF ED ISSUES GUIDANCE ON CAMPUS EMERGENCIES
The Department of Education has issued a document, Addressing Emergencies on Campus, providing guidance to campuses regarding their campus safety policies. The 16-page publication discusses the application of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in emergency situations.
Department of Ed Issues Guidance on Campus Emergencies (NAICU)