By Scott Fleming, Interim Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU


Congress and the Administration have not reached an agreement on how to adjust budget caps which, under the Budget Control Act of 2011, would require massive discretionary spending cuts impacting defense and non-defense accounts in FY20. Likewise, no real movement has occurred on raising the debt ceiling before the Administration runs out of options to avoid borrowing more money (likely in late summer or early fall).

Rumors have been flying around Washington about what lies ahead. One week we hear that the President would rather have the government operate under a series of continuing resolutions (CRs) – thereby maintaining current funding levels – until after the November 2020 election. The next week, we hear concern among Congressional Republicans about the potential consequences of operating under CRs, and that the Administration is open to reaching a bipartisan deal. This week saw an initial meeting on this topic with bipartisan House and Senate leaders, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

There has been some encouraging news out of the House of Representatives this month. On May 8, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY20 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill. Over the past few decades, this bill has typically been the last to be considered by Committee. Having it scheduled first makes a statement about its priority to the Committee, which has dubbed it, “The People’s Bill.” Since an overall budget framework has not been reached, the mark-up took place under a “deeming resolution,” which set allocations for each Subcommittee’s bill and included an increase of $11.8 billion over current funding levels for “The People’s Bill.” The deeming resolution was approved on a party line vote, which makes clear that compromises will be necessary down the road.

Highlights of the bill for student financial aid and higher education programs include:

In its report accompanying the bill, the Appropriations Committee listed specific requirements for the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance and updates on the following:

With regard to medical research and training, the bill also includes:

For more detail on the Committee’s work, please click here.

It is likely that the appropriations bill will reach the House floor in June. In the Senate, no action has been taken on appropriations measures. Senate Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has indicated that it is his strong preference to have a budget agreement before moving forward, but there is some talk now of the Senate passing its own deeming resolution and beginning action on its own appropriations process. In any event, it is safe to predict that the House bill is the high-water mark for funding levels.

Just last week, the Administration sent Congress a proposed “budget amendment” designed to provide increased funds for NASA by rescinding $1.9 billion in funds from the Pell reserve account. The proposal received objections from House Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and members of the higher education community, including the Committee for Education Funding (see CEF’s letter here).

There has been action on other issues of importance to AJCU as well: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA); tax treatment of scholarship funds in excess of tuition and fees; and immigration:

There will be a lot of action on these issues over this summer. While this is the last Federal Relations report for Connections until September, we will continue to share updates on the Federal Relations page of the AJCU website: