Members of Congress returned last week with the goal of completing unfinished business.  In addition to hearings and meetings, leadership decisions began to crystalize.

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Timely Topics: Fiscal Cliff Deciders

Capitol News:

  • Congress:Congressional Party Leadership; Congressional Committee Leadership; EU Emission Tax Delay and Rejection; Farm Bill.
  • Administration & Independent Agencies: Next Obama Administration; Climate Change; Organic Foods; Ethanol Mandate.
  • Courts: Copyright; Affirmative Action.

Noteworthy News: Carbon Tax; Basic Research; US Oil Production; Yucca MT; Tax Credits; Credit Online; Charters; Pell Grants; Biofuels; College Completion; Student Financial Stress.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

Timely Topic: Fiscal Cliff Who will decide?

  • The most pressing issue facing Congress and the President is the impending “fiscal cliff.”  Only a few Members of Congress and Administration officials will negotiate the final deal.  As reported by National Journal the final decision makers are likely to be President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Chief of Staff Jacob Lew, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, Treasury Secretary Geithner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Senate Minority Leader McConnell, Senator Baucus, Senator Schumer, Senator Murray, Speaker Boehner, Congressman Camp, Majority Leader Cantor, House Minority Leader Pelosi, and Congressman Van Hollen.

CAPITOL NEWS: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions


  • House Republicans: House Republicans voted for their leaders last week.  Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and Majority Whip McCarthy retained their positions. Representative McMorris Rodgers won a contentious battle for Conference Chairman and Representative Jenkins was elected as Conference Vice Chair, adding two women to the Republican leadership team.
  • House Democrats. As for the Democrats in the House, Majority Leader Pelosi announced that she would continue in that position.  The House Democrats plan to hold their elections next week.
  • Senate Democrats. Majority Leader Reid, Senate Majority Whip Durbin, Conference Vice Chairman Schumer and Conference Secretary Murray all maintained their leadership roles for the Senate Democrats.  Senator Stabenow will manage the Democrats’ steering and outreach committee.  Meanwhile, newly elected Senator King (I-ME) announced he will caucus with the Senate Democrats.
  • Senate Republicans. As for the Republicans, Minority Leader McConnell retained his position.  Senator Cornyn will serve as Minority Whip, Senator Thune will remain Conference Chairman, Senator Moran will run the National Republican Senatorial Committee, John Barrasso will act as policy chairman, and Senator Blunt as conference vice chairman.
  • House Committee Leadership.  While the Committee Chairs and Ranking Members of House Committees need to be officially decided, only a few Committees may have contentious elections.  The presumed leaders for key committees include (listed Chair and Ranking Member, respectively):
  •                 Agriculture – Lucas (OK) and Peterson (MN)
  •                 Appropriations – Rogers (KY) and Kaptur (D-OH)* or Lowey (D-NY)*
  •                 Education – Kline (MN) and Miller (CA)
  •                 Energy & Commerce – Upton (MI) and Waxman (CA)
  •                 Judiciary – Goodlatte (VA)* and Conyers (MI)
  •                 Science – Sensenbrenner (WI)* or Smith (TX)* and Johnson (D-TX)
  • Senate Committee Leadership.  While most Senate Democrats will retain their chairs (unless someone has retired), expect big changes in the Republican Ranking Members.  For key committees, the presumed leaders for key committees include (listed Chair and Ranking Member, respectively:
  •                 Agriculture – Stabenow (MI) and Cochran (MS)*
  •                 Appropriations – Inouye (HI) and Shelby (AL)*
  •                 Commerce – Rockefeller (WV) and DeMint (SC)*
  •                 Energy & Natural Resources – Wyden (OR)* and Murkowski (AK)
  •                 Environment  – Boxer (CA) and Vitter (LA)*
  •                 HELP – Harkin (IA) and Alexander (TN)*
  •                 Judiciary – Leahy (VT) and Grassley (IA)
  • EU Emissions Bill.  As discussed in the previous blog posting Congress Left, Sequestration Looming, both the Senate and House had voted on similar but slightly different bills that allowed the Secretary of Transportation to prevent US airlines from complying with the EU greenhouse gas emissions requirement.  The House voted last week to pass the Senate Bill, S. 1956.  In the meantime, the EU decided to delay program enforcement, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.
  • Farm Bill Vote?  House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) continues to prod House Republicans to bring the farm bill to a vote, according to AgWeb.  The House farm bill, which will cost nearly a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, has stalled in the House.  The Senate passed its version of the farm bill, Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, in June.

Administration & Independent agencies

  • Obama Administration – Round Two.  Several Cabinet members have indicated their desire to remain with the Administration, while others we know are leaving.  So, who will be in the next Administration?  The Washington Post printed its best guesses as listed below:
  •          State Department: With Secretary Clinton retiring, the top two names are Senator Kerry and UN Ambassador Rice.  Both of them have potential roadblocks.  A third name, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, also made the Post’s list.
  •          Treasury Department: Secretary Geithner’s departure leaves another hole.  The Post’s picks: WH Chief of Staff Lew or Bowles, of the famous Simpson-Bowles Commission.
  •          Justice Department.  With uncertainty about Holder’s future plans, the Post names Homeland Secretary Napolitano as a possible replacement.  Others on the list include Massachusetts’ Governor Patrick and Senator Whitehouse (RI).
  •         Defense Department:  Secretary Panetta may stay put with all the other upheaval, but if he does leave the top two contenders appear to former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Flournoy and Deputy Secretary of Defense Carter.
  •         While not discussed in the Post article, ED Secretary Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are both expected to remain.  Energy Secretary Chu and EPA Administrator Jackson are expected to leave the Administration.  Former Senator Dorgan is widely regarded as the frontrunner for Secretary of Energy.
  • Not the Climate for Change?  If you are expecting President Obama to push for climate change legislation, you may need to wait a while.  According to Politico, the President made clear that economy trumps action on climate change.  At the same time, the President continued to push for clean energy development as a means to improve our economic situation through new
  • Testing Organic Foods.  USDA announced that next year it would commence periodic testing of organic foods for GMOs, pesticides or other nonorganic substances according to The Wall Street Journal.  USDA plans to test no less than five percent of farms or production facilities annually.
  • Sequestration & NIH.  Like many others, NIH Director Collins continues to sound the alarm about the “dangers” of sequestration, according to The Tennessean.
  • Ethanol Mandate Continued.  The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a petition for a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard finding “the agency has not found evidence to support a finding of severe “economic harm” that would warrant granting a waiver,” according to its press release.  As a result, a minimum amount of renewable fuel (typically corn ethanol) must be included in transportation fuel.


  • Copyright Contention Continues.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Authors Guild will appeal the SDNY District Court decision to dismiss their copyright case against HathiTrust Digital Library and its university partners. The case is discussed in the prior blog posting Energy in the Spotlight.
  • MI Affirmative Action Ban Banned.  The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban on affirmative action passed by Michigan voters in a 2006 referendum.  The Court held the referendum unconstitutional, concluding it violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection laws, according to CNN. As discussed in the blog posting The Supremes Return, the Supreme Court is reviewing race-based admissions in the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.


  • When a Tax isn’t a Tax.  With some momentum building for a carbon tax among Republican lawmakers and advocates (see prior posting HIGHER EDUCATION & ENERGY HANGING IN THE BALANCE that discussed efforts by former Congressman Inglis on climate change), the tricky question of how to support a tax without raising taxes surfaces.  According to Grover Norquist, the lobbyist that has held many Republican candidates and Members of Congress to his “no tax” pledge, supporting a carbon tax seems to be OK, when there is a swap with a cut in income tax, as reported by National Journal.
  • Support for Basic Research? Some scientists who supported President Obama’s re-election certainly hope that the President will continue to support funding for basic research and address climate change, according to The New York Times.  As reported in the blog posting The Real Impacts of Sequestration & Who Might be in the Next Administration, a group of 68 Nobel Laureates sent a letter endorsing President Obama.  Despite expectations that the President’s commitment will remain strong, the fear of automatic cuts from the impending “fiscal cliff” worries the scientific community, according to the article.
  • Oil Production Leader.  According to the International Energy Agency’s latest report, the US will take the top spot as the world’s top oil produce in five years. Moreover, the report concludes that the US should be “almost self-sufficient in energy” by the year 2035.
  • Yucca – Dead Forever?  With the re-election of President Obama and the Senate remaining under the control of the Democrats and Senator Reid as Majority Leader, any hope of reviving the nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain is gone, as reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal,
  • Tax Credits.  With the lame duck session well underway, Congress must decide whether to end or extend certain tax cuts, including for renewables like biofuels, wind, geothermal, and solar.  As reported by E&E News, these producers are optimistic about an extension.  However, as discussed in previous blog postings (see Congress Left, Sequestration Looming; Energy in the Spotlight; Immigration, Sequestration, and a Long To-Do List; and Higher Education & Energy Hanging in the Balance) the extensions face significant opposition from influential Members of Congress.
  • Credit Online? Several prominent universities, including Duke University, University of Rochester, and Northwestern plan to form a consortium, “Semester Online,” that will offer credit for a small number of online courses to their students and others accepted through an application process and charged tuition, according to The New York Times.  In addition, as reported by Inside Higher Education, American Council of Education (ACE) plans to team up with Coursera and EdX to determine if credit can be awarded for some online courses.
  • Charter Enrollment.  Despite the evidence that charter schools overall do not better educate students (and in fact do a worse job in many cases), charters, which allow private groups to access public funds to run the schools, continue to see growing enrollment and state and private support.  As reported in The New York Times, an increase in just over two million students, or 13%, enrolled in charter schools from the 2010-11 to the 2011-12 time period.
  • Pell Grants Future?  With all the threats to funding, the future of funding for Pell Grants remains unclear. As reported in Inside Higher Education, past concerns with the deficit have lead to attempts to cut funding for the Pell Grant program.  And, many higher education advocates believe the Program will be targeted for cuts or changes in the future.
  • Biofuels – Waste and All.  Biofuels have captured the imagination of scientist and entrepreneurs for many years, and it appears large-scale, commercial production may be on the near horizon.  As reported in The New York Times, tow companies have developed technologies that allow for conversion of wood waste into fuel.
  • Completion Gains. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released its Signature Report on college completion.  Some of the findings of the Report include: the six-year completion rate nationally is 54%; more than 20% of students received their degree from a different institution than they originally attended; of students who started at two-year institutions, 15% received their degree within six years at a four-year institution; younger (24 years or younger) students who attended exclusively part-time had a lower completion rate than older students.  For more information and discussion on the Report’s finding, see also Inside Higher Education.
  • On-going Stress.  According to a report by the National Survey of Student Engagement, students are impacted by financial stress during their education, not just after graduation.  According to the Report, most students are concerned about paying for college and, as a result they do not purchase required materials and their performance suffers.  Specifically, “[f]ull-time students working more than 20 hours per week face the greatest financial stress: three in five said that their job interfered with their academic performance, yet just as many had considered working more hours.”


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