With just over a week until the Presidential and Congressional elections, federal policy remains in flux. When Members of Congress return on November 13, 2012, future policy developments will begin to crystalize.
To subscribe for Federal Policy Week enter your email address under the “Follow” label at the upper left section of the page. You will receive a verification email to confirm your subscription. Thank you!
IN THIS ISSUE:
Timely Topics: Higher Education in the Next Administration & Congress.
- Congress: Wind Credit; House Democrat Leadership; CA Gas Prices; Gas Exports; Energy Subsidies.
- Administration:NASA Education; Scientific Conferences.
- DC Organizations: Immigration and STEM Graduates.
- Presidential Campaigns:College Costs; Candidates Views; Obama Second Term.
Noteworthy News: CEO Debt Deal; Biofuels; Fracking and Chemicals; Republicans & Climate; Nuclear Plants; Clean Tech; Student Loans; Teenagers & Volunteering; International Science Stats; Energy Use & Savings.
In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.
Timely Topic: Higher Education in the Next Administration & Congress.
While the future of higher education remains unclear in the next Congress and Administration, understanding the differences between the candidates’ positions on higher education from the recent Presidential debates and speeches remains difficult. Inside Higher Education did a comprehensive analysis of what to expect for higher education from each candidate and Congress. Some highlights from the article include:
- An Obama Administration is expected to continue his focus on college access, completion, and financial aid, including Pell Grants. He is also expected to promote more regulations and scrutiny.
- A Romney Administration will probably make higher education less of a priority, subject to budget cuts, including possibly Pell Grants. He is also expected to undue regulations, especially related to for-profits.
- If sequestration happens (see posting “Congress Left, Sequestration Looming”), several critical programs face a cut of 8.6 percent (the Pell Grant program is exempt under sequestration). In reaching a deal to avoid sequestration, some cuts (including possibly to Pell Grants) are still likely, but the extent of the cuts remains unclear, given Republican’s history of advocating cuts and Democrat’s history of protecting Pell Grants.
- It is likely that subsidized loans will be on the chopping block under both a Romney and Obama Administration.
- The Obama Administration will continue to income-based repayment loan programs. A Romney Administration will likely eliminate these loan programs. His Administration will also attempt to eliminate the direct-loan program.
- Congress is likely to address these issues when it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, which expires in 2013, even if Congress fails to reauthorize it in a timely manner.
- Both Administrations are likely to expand federal governments role in college accountability, especially as relates to tuition.
- While the two Administrations are likely to take different approaches to immigration, both embrace the policy of granting foreign graduates from American colleges with advanced degrees.
- The Obama Administration is likely to continue funding for NEA and NEH, while Romney will advocate eliminating funding for both agencies. While both advocate for basic research funding, the Ryan budget cuts funding for research.
Overall, I would encourage you to read the entire article for a good overview of the how the next Administration and Congress will approach higher education policy.
CAPITOL NEWS: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions. While most Members left DC to campaign back in their home districts, some are still holding events in DC. Others continue to discuss, develop, defend, and deride federal policy from home. Meanwhile, the Administration and other DC Institutions continue their work.
- Wind Credit Blowing On? Senator Alexander (R-TN) remains a strong opponent to the production tax credit for the wind industry. Unless Congress renews the tax credit soon, it will terminate at the end of the year. According to National Journal, Alexander opposes the wind credit because it is costly, provides a minimal amount of this Nation’s energy, and has lead to massive bird deaths. The renewable tax credits have deeply divided the Republican caucus, with senior Senators and Congressmen on both sides of the issue, and Republican nominee Romney opposing it. Continuation of the wind tax credit, which is in the Senate tax extenders bill, looks promising if the comprehensive deal is reached this year.
- House Democrats Leadership Vote. House Democrats plan to vote on their leadership team on November 29, 2012, according to an article in The Hill. Rumors continue over Minority Leader Pelosi’s (D-CA) plans, The Hill reports. As mentioned in the Energy in the Spotlight post, the Republicans will vote on November 12.
- California Gas. Gas prices in California have captured the attention of several Members of Congress. Senator Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senator Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to the Democratic Chairs of their respective committees (i.e., Senator Bingaman (D-NM) and Senator Boxer (D-CA), calling for a joint Committee hearing on reasons for the surge in the price of gas in California. Their request comes in response to other Members’ (e.g, Boxer and Waxman) request for DOJ and FTC to investigate possible market manipulation and price gouging.
- Natural Gas Exports. Senator Wyden (D-OR), who is expected to take over the top Democratic spot on the Senate Energy Committee next Congress, sent DOE Secretary Chu a letter requesting details on criteria for approving companies’ requests for exporting natural gas, as reported in The Hill. Senator Wyden remains concerned that increased exports will negatively impact US companies and manufacturers.
- Energy Subsidies Assessment. House Democrats and Republicans disagree over the best way to audit and assess energy subsidies. As reported by E&E News PM, Congressmen Waxman (D-CA) and Rush (D-IL), asked GAO to conduct an assessment of energy subsidies to include the oil and gas industry, as well as a broad range of impacts from the subsidies, including on jobs, competitiveness, public health, and the environment. Several House Republicans had previously requested an audit of energy subsidies that was more limited, and according to the Congressmen Waxman and Rush, specifically excluded subsidies that benefit the oil and gas industry.
- NASA Online Education. NASA announced the release of an online science website for students and teachers. According to NASA, the new site, NASA Wavelength, “features hundreds of resources organized by topic and audience level from elementary to college, and out-of-school programs that span the extent of NASA science. Educators at all levels can locate educational resources through information on educational standards, subjects and keywords and other relevant details, such as learning time required to carry out a lesson or an activity, cost of materials and more.”
- Attendance at Scientific Conferences. The Office of Management and Budget issued rules restricting attendance by federal employees. As reported by The New York Times, science and technical groups say that the rules are negatively impacting collaboration among the scientific community. The groups sent a letter to Congress and the Administration requesting “an exemption from the spending policy for ‘recognized scientific, technical and educational meetings’ and ‘meetings of national and international standards bodies.’”
DC – Independent Organizations & Agencies.
- Foreigners and STEM. A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report “Immigration of Foreign Nationals with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Degrees,” that foreigners who graduate from US institutions with STEM degrees continue to struggle to find jobs in the US. Many face visa difficulties.
The Presidential Campaign
- College Costs. The Presidential campaigns continue to face the issue of college costs and affordability, as described in a The New York Times article. President Obama, in particular, raises his Administration’s efforts, including with Pell Grants and loan repayments, on college affordability regularly. Conservative critics on federal support and Republican nominee Romney collectively have argued that federal aid has lead to increased college costs and refocus Pell Grants to fewer recipients. The article provides a detailed description the proponents and opponents views of the Administration’s college affordability programs. At the same time, the College Board released a report on college costs that the increase in college tuition on average was the smallest in over a decade. However, the story on costs is not simple, as spelled out in an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, which discusses the College Board report, real costs of tuition, as Administration initiatives to reduce costs and provide students and their families with accurate information on costs.
- Candidates Positions on Science. The candidates’ positions on science and R&D are not always clear from their platforms or speeches. Nature provides an analysis of their positions on issues like funding for NIH, biomedical research, energy, climate, and stem cells.
- Obama’s Second Term Agenda. President Obama released a booklet outlining his agenda for a second term in office. The booklet, named “The New Economic Patriotism: A Plan for Jobs & Middle-Class Security,” covers education, jobs & economy, energy, foreign policy, health care, women’s health and seniors. In addition to highlighting accomplishments from his first term, President Obama promises additional energy exploration, extending tax credits for clean energy manufacturing, cutting college tuition, and, preparing & recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers.
- Obama Interview – Next Term. While in Iowa, President Obama provided The Des Moines Register with his thoughts on sequestration and his second term. As reported in a The Hill blog, President expects deals on the deficit and immigration.
- CEO Debt Deal. As reported across the media, over 80 CEOs of major companies released a statement urging a deal on the budget. Specifically, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, the statement said that “any fiscal plan ‘that can succeed both financially and politically’ has to limit the growth of health-care spending, make Social Security solvent and “include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit.” Unlike other business groups (and the Romney campaign), these CEOs recognize the inevitable necessity of raising taxes, and appear to embrace the structure laid out by the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
- Biofuels Debate Snags Farm Bureau. As farmers and ranchers across the country debate the costs and benefits of biofuels, the American Farm Bureau Federation (FB) finds itself in the middle of an escalating battle, according to a report in The Hill. While a historically strong supporter of the renewable fuel standard that requires the adding of biofuels with regular fuels, the FB is now dealing with complaints from livestock owners about the rising costs of feed crops, especially corn. FB’s position will be up for a vote in January at its annual convention, where votes are expected to fall along regional lines (with heavy livestock states in the Southeast expected to oppose continued support).
- Fracking & Chemicals. The EPA received a petition from 16 environmental groups requesting that oil and gas companies report chemicals used and released in fracking, according to Bloomberg. According to the article, the groups want the chemicals listed as part of EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. –Republicans on Climate Change. Former Republican Congressman Inglis, who runs the George Mason University Energy and Enterprise Initiative, continues to buck his party by looking for solutions to climate change that appeal to his Republican colleagues. Next week Inglis will join former House Speaker Hastert in Illinois to speak at an event “Energy Markets and Politics: Responsible Stewardship of God’s Resources.”
- Nuclear Plant Closure. Lack of demand and the low cost of natural gas have lead to the owner’s decision to close an older, small nuclear reactor in Wisconsin, despite recent approval for continued operation, according to an article in The New York Times. Dominion’s decision was based on increased economic challenges, including low electricity prices, something that appears to be plaguing other generators in areas where auctions are used to sell power. In it’s press release, Dominion reaffirmed the importance of nuclear power to the US. Generally, low natural gas prices have had an impact on both nuclear and coal, reducing their market competitiveness.
- US Clean Technology (and Indonesia). While clean technology still interests entrepreneurs, many are abandoning large-scale game-changing approaches for smaller, more directed businesses that focus on improving existing industries, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Recent, highly publicized bankruptcies, are likely contributing to venture capitalists reluctance to fund more ambitious companies. This shift to value-added companies seems to cross all clean technology industries. In a somewhat related (albeit not totally relevant) note, The Wall Street Journal reports that Indonesia plans to increase the percentage of electricity it derives from renewable resources (biofuels, hydroelectric, and geothermal) to 25% from seven percent by 2025.
- Student Loan Repayments. As report in the last blog posting, The Real Impacts of Sequestration.., lower income students will see less benefit from the income-based repayment option (IBR). As reported in Inside Higher Education, not many student borrowers are using the IRB, despite the benefits of linking payment to income and relief after a specified time period, because they remain unaware of its existence. The article also indicates that a Romney Administration is unlikely to continue the program.
- Teenagers and Volunteering. Apparently, peer pressure can be good, for volunteering. As reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a report by Do Something.Org, shows “[t]here quarters of people ages 13-22 whose friends volunteer regularly also do.” Other correlations with positive impacts on the rate of volunteering included family wealth and frequent texting. The report shows that teenagers will volunteer under the right circumstances, including for issues they care about (like hunger and homelessness) and in fun social settings. As reported in the posting, Energy in the Spotlight, ED is looking for input on it’s “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy” Roadmap, so perhaps this report will provide them a method to encourage teenagers to engage in activities and volunteer for projects that advance our democracy.
- International Science & Innovation Stats. OECD released its annual STI Outlook, which uses the latest information and indicators to report on the status of science and innovation performance and policy trends for OECD and other emerging countries. According to the report, R&D spending by businesses fell 4.5% overall in OECD countries. In contrast, R&D increased in China by nearly 30% and in India and Korea by over 20%. R&D spending varied by sector. Government R&D also varied by country, with the US expecting to maintain it’s spending.
- Use Less, Save More. A type of financing for energy saving projects, “energy-savings performance contracts” that allows governments to defer spending by paying over time through money saved on resulting reduced utility costs, is resulting in more deployment energy efficient products. As reported in The New York Times, this no-risk approach for governments (often cities) has the energy company provide and install the energy equipment and with promises of specified energy savings, enough to cover costs. These contracts also happen at the federal level with over 25 agencies employing them since 1998 and the Obama Administration is encouraging their use, according the Times article.
IN THE KNOW: Upcoming Events & Previous Events.
Upcoming Events (listed by date):
- Wilson Center: The Future of Energy: Choices for Japan and the United States, Wednesday, October 31, 2012
- AEI, The Economics of Carbon Taxes, Tuesday, November 13
- Brookings Institute, The First 100 Days Innovation Agenda for the Next Administration, Tuesday, November 13
Events Last Week:
- Bipartisan Policy Institute: Campaign 2012 Coverage: Breaking New Ground, Tuesday, October 23, 2012
- Center for American Progress: A Conversation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Allison Macfarlane, Thursday, October 25, 2012