Immigration: Fits and Starts; Climate and College Costs

Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in education, research, science, agriculture, immigration, energy, environment, natural resources, and intellectual property. 

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Capitol News:  

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

CONGRESS: Immigration; Student Loan Rates; College Costs and Expectations; Energy Efficiency; Science Laureate; Farm Bill; House Agenda, Congressional Hearings.

Administration & Independent agencies:  Nominations & Confirmations; Climate Tool; Ethanol Solutions; GMO Crops; Biden & Keystone; NIH Sequestration; Manufacturing; Open Government.

Noteworthy News: Community College & Expectations; NEA & Digital Learning; College Grads and Jobs; MOOCs Completion Rates; College For All; Louisiana Vouchers; Republicans & Climate; Public Presidents’ Salaries.

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

Capitol News.  


  • Immigration.  The debate on immigration heated up this past week as the Senate Judiciary Committee began debate on an immigration plan. The legislation from the “Gang of Eight,” The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, stayed largely in tact during the first week despite a barrage of amendments.  Hearings on the Act will continue next week. Technology companies have rallied around the Senate bill, which provides an increase in visas for highly-skilled workers.  The House Judiciary Committee, as reported in the Federal Policy Week posting A Very Bad Bill is beginning a drawn-out series of hearings, and the House bipartisan group working on legislation is still planning on introducing legislation.
  • Student Loan Rates.  As the cap on student loan interest rates double this summer, some in Congress are scrambling to introduce legislation to prevent the increase.  House Education Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) introduced the The Smarter Solutions for Students Act which adopts the approach proposed in the President’s budget proposal to link interest rates for all federal student loans (except for Perkins) to 10-year Treasury note.
  • Examining Graduates Salaries.  A bipartisan group of Senators, including Senators Wyden (D-OR), Rubio (R-FL), and Warner (D-VA) introduced The Student Right to Know Act, which is designed to provide information on colleges for students.  According to the press release, the legislation would “streamline existing institutional reporting requirements to give students and their families more tools to easily compare graduation rates, student loan debt, employment prospects and potential future earnings as they make important decisions about higher education.” The bill remains controversial with many in higher education objecting to the idea that a graduates’ salary immediately after graduation is not indicative of the value of college or specific majors.  A companion bill was interested in the House.
  • Energy Efficiency.  The Senate Energy Committee passed energy-efficiency and hydropower legislation. S. 761, a bill to promote energy savings in residential and commercial buildings and industry, based with overwhelming support, with only three Republican Senators objecting.  A similar bill, which cleared the Energy Committee last year, never made it to the Senate floor because of disagreements over amendments. While the ultimate fate of these bills remains unclear, the first hurdle has been cleared.
  • Science Laureate.  Republican and Democratic Members from both the House and Senate introduced legislation creating a Science Laureate.  The Act allows the President to appoint a nationally renowned scientist as a science ambassador. In this honorary post, the Laureate would “speak to Americans on the importance of science broadly and scientific issues of the day.”
  • Farm Bill.  Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees plan to begin examining their respective farm bills next week.  The Senate and House bills will take different approaches to the commodity payments, conversation compliance requirements (ag and conservation groups just reached a deal to add conservation requirements to crop insurance), and overall funding levels (Senate bill cuts significantly less than the House), including major cuts proposed by the House Chairman in the nutrition title. As for the energy title, Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Franken (D-MN) introduced legislation the Rural Energy Investment Act that contains several programs to expand production of renewable energy (biomass, biodiesel, wind, solar, etc.) in rural areas.
  • Republican House Agenda.  In the House, where the majority party makes almost all the decisions about the agenda, what is most notable are the items not included.  As reported by National Journal, the House does not plan to address immigration in the near future.
  • Climate Controversy.  While the impacts of human activities on the climate has gained consensus in the scientific community, in the political arena doubters still continue their questioning.  As reported in The Washington Post, reports how one member of the House, Stewart (R-UT) portrays a survey (that is far from perfect) of scientists to raise doubt on the consensus opinion that human activities drive climate change.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

Senate Energy:

Senate Commerce:

Senate Appropriations:

House Energy

Administration & Independent Agencies:

  • Nominations and Confirmations.
  1. Secretary of Energy.  The Senate Energy Committee voted to report out Moniz’s nomination favorably.  Senator Graham (R-SC) continues to have a hold on his nomination over a nuclear fuel facility based in his state.  However, the hold is expected to be lifted so a vote can take place next week.
  2. EPA Administrator. The Senate EPW Committee Republicans boycotted the planned t vote on the confirmation of EPA nominee Gina McCarthy on May 9, 2013
  3. Commerce Secretary. Penny Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt family fortune and Chicago resident was nominated to be Secretary of Commerce.
  • Ethanol Solutions?  In an attempt to deal with the excess of ethanol, EPA proposed a 30% ethanol gas blend, as reported by The New York Times.  To be successful, automakers and gas stations would need to buy into the changes, and overcome objections from the oil industry.
  • Climate Tool.   The Administration released the Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health (MATCH) platform, which is managed by the multi-agency Global Change Research Program.  This online tool provides researchers with centralized access to from thousands of government-held datasets related to health, the environment, and climate-science.
  • GMO Crops.  USDA decided to require more extensive environmental reviews of two new crops, Dow’s corn and soybeans, delaying the release of these GMO crops, reports The New York Times.  The environmental review is expected to be very limited in scope, however.
  • Biden and Keystone XL.  The fate of the Keystone XL pipeline remains unclear, but Vice-President Biden is no supported.  As reported in The Washington Post, Biden stated that he opposed the pipeline, but was not in the majority at the White House.
  • NIH Sequester Cuts.  NIH released its plan for implementing its cuts from sequestration, which reduced the overall budget by $1.55 billion from FY12. Inflationary increases are terminated, existing grants are cut, and NIH is likely to grant fewer awards in the future.
  • Manufacturing Innovation Institutes.  The White House announced a new competition for three new manufacturing innovation institutes, which will leverage a $200 million federal investment involving five federal agencies – Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.  Defense will lead two of the initiatives (“Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation” and “Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing) and Energy will lead one (“Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing”).
  • Open Government.  The Administration announced new rules on government data, making the data more accessible to the public.  The new policy for federal agencies, stemming from an executive order, mandates that “data generated by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats, while appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security.”


  • Community Colleges Expectations.  A new study by the National Center on Education and the Economy, finds that community colleges curricula and high school graduate education are off balance.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the report concludes that community colleges have exceedingly low academic expectations, but many students still could not meet those standards.
  • NEA and Digital Learning.  The National Education Association approved a statement on digital learning that applies to both K-12 and higher education. As summarized by Inside Higher Ed, the statement supports a combination or hybrid of technology and teachers, who should be involved in decisions about technology in the classroom, and urges careful watch for increased inequities in education for a digital divide.
  • College Grads and Jobs.  Another report shows that having a college degree helps graduates, even during a difficult economy, according to The New York Times.  In fact, graduates, unlike any other group, have more employed in 2013 than when the recession began.
  • MOOC & Completion.  In the rush for MOOC as a possible panacea to higher education cost woes by some proponents, new data show that fewer than seven percent of students enrolled in MOOCs complete the online courses.  As reported by Inside Higher Ed, completion rates depend on the format of the course.
  • College for All.  A new study from the Brookings Institution questions if everyone should attend college, arguing that “there is enormous variation in the so-called return to education depending on factors such as institution attended, field of study, whether a student graduates, and post-graduation occupation.”  See Inside Higher Education for more on the debate.
  • Louisiana Charters.  In a blow to Governor Jindal’s plans to undermine public education by diverting funding to private schools, the Louisiana Supreme Court found his program violates the State’s constitution, as reported in The Washington Post.  Governor Jindal has been a strong advocate for taking money from public schools to private schools through the use of vouchers.
  • Republicans and Climate Change.  As reported in previous postings of Federal Policy Week, internal struggles for Republicans over climate change continue, according to National Journal.  Some of the push for action on climate change is coming from conservative Christian groups who are worried about the impacts on the world’s poor, NJ reports.
  • Public Presidents’ Salaries.  The list of the highest paid public university presidents shows several presidents received salaries north of one million dollars.  The former President of Penn State took the top spot with nearly $3 million.  The presidents rounding of the top five highest paid include (in order, after Penn State): Auburn University, Ohio State, George Mason, and Ball State.


Upcoming Events (listed by date):


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