DEAL OR NO DEAL – WILL THE BUDGET CONFERENCE SUCCEED (AND MUCH MORE)

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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IN THIS ISSUE:

Capitol News:

Congressional, Administrative, Courts

CONGRESS: Budget; Immigration; Early Education; Student Aid; Open-Access Textbooks; Appropriations Shuffle; Sequester Impacts; Mining; WRDA Conferees; Climate; Coal; Chimps; Congressional Hearings & Markups.

Administration & Independent Agencies: Nominations, Confirmations, & Departures; RFS; Commerce; M. Obama on Higher Ed; NIH Grants; Transmissions; Gainful Employment; FTC & For-Profits.

COURTS: Affirmative Action; Fair Use.

Noteworthy News: Military Benefits; US Energy Production; Online Ed; STEM Reality; Internationals in the US; Cellulosic Ethanol; Ethanol & the Environment.

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

Capitol News.

CONGRESS

Budget:  The Budget Conference Committee continues to meet, but there are no signs of progress, although both sides appear to agree that the random cuts made through sequester should be replaced by more thoughtful reductions (and some hope eliminated).  As expected, Democrats want to close some tax loopholes to reduce the burden of sequester, but as of now, the Republicans appear uninterested in that tradeoff.

Immigration.  While immigration is off the table for this year, there appears some hope that it may be back again next year.  Speaker Boehner (R-OH), who favors piecemeal immigration bills over a comprehensive approach, ruled out all efforts for a comprehensive bill this year and specifically vowed to not bring the Senate bill to a vote.  Congressman Walden (R-OR) reiterated that immigration reform legislation will not get House floor time this year, but he did prognosticate that the House would pass a bill by the end of 2014.

Early Education.  As a long time supporter of early education, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Harkin (D-IA) introduced a bill, Strong Start for America’s Children Act, that would create “expand access to high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age five.” House Education & Workforce Committee Ranking Member Miller (D-CA) introduced the companion bill.  House Education Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) dismissed the bill as premature, saying that the Committee must first improve existing programs, like Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant programs.

Student Aid.  At a recent HELP Committee hearing on student aid, several witness suggested that the student aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, needs to be simplified.  They also proposed replacing the various programs with one grant program and tax credit.

Open-Access Textbooks. New legislation, the Affordable College Textbook Act, which Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Franken (D-MN) introduced, would aid the availability of free online textbooks.  The bill would create a program that provides grants to higher education institutions to create and expand and put online for public use.

Appropriations Shuffle.  With the departure of several members of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee chairs from Congress, new Republican chairs have been appointed.  Specifically, Congressman Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will head the Defense Subcommittee, Representative Simpson (R-ID) will lead the Energy & Water Development Subcommittee, Rep. Calvert (R-CA) will take over the Interior Subcommittee and Rep. Cole (R-OK) will take over Legislative Branch subcommittee.  All four Members are considered “centrists.”

Sequester Consequences.  The Sequester has caused serious blows to several federal programs, and with new cuts expected early next year (if the Budget Conference fails to make a deal) will deepen the federal agencies’ woes.  Several university groups, including AAU and APLU released results of a survey demonstrating significant negative impacts on research at universities.

Mining.  While mountaintop mining may seem indefensible on its face, efforts to regulate more strictly are facing opposition from Republicans (and maybe some Democrats).  Specifically, House Republican Members of the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on a bill to prevent stricter regulations by the Department of Interior.

WRDA Conferees.  Both the Senate and House announced conferees for the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization.  The Senate conferees hail from the EPW Committee and the House conferees come from the Transportation & Infrastructure and Natural Resources Committees.  WRDA is a popular bill, as it sends money for projects back to districts, but it can be fraught with problems, including attacks on environmental regulations.

Climate Hearing?  The Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee Waxman (D-CA) sent a letter to Chairman Upton (R-MI) requesting a hearing on climate change, which Upton has so far refused to do.  Rep. Waxman was prompted to write the letter following the Typhon that devastated parts of the Philippines and recent reports linking climate change to human activities and increased potential harm.

Coal & CCS.  At a recent House hearing, Members challenged EPA’ acting assistant administrator for air and radiation over the feasibility of carbon-capture and sequestration technology, claiming it is not a realistic alternative for most plants.  The fight over the proposed EPA regulations on emissions by new power plants will wage on for quite a while.

CHIMPS.  Now for some good news!  Congress came together to provide funding for federally owned chimps retired from research to continue living in sanctuaries.

Notable Congressional Hearings & Mark Ups:

Senate HELP:

Senate EPW:

Senate Energy:

House Judiciary:

House Science:

House Education:

House Natural Resources:

Administration & Independent Agencies:

Nominations, Confirmations, and Departures:

  • USAID: The White House is expected to name a liaison to facilitate the relationship between USAID and higher education.
  • DOE:  The White House named two more nominees for positions at DOE.  They are: Franklin Orr from Stanford University, for Undersecretary for Science, and Marc Kastner from MIT, for Director of the Office of Science.

RFS:  As reported in several Federal Policy Week postings (see Can America Compete and It Goes On), EPA announced its proposed RFS target for 2014, revising it downward from the legislated amount of 18.15 billion gallons to approximately 15.1 billion gallons.  The proposal allows for a comment period before being finalized.

Commerce – Priorities.  Commerce Secretary Pritzker laid out her agenda and ideas for the Department.  She specifically mentioned her ideas for increasing exports and foreign investment, as well as improving Americans preparedness for jobs.  Several smaller agencies, like US PTO, NIST, the Census, and NOAA are all part of Commerce.

M. Obama on Higher Ed.  Now, First Lady Michelle Obama is getting in the act of advocating for increased rates of graduation from college.  She is taking her message directly to students and speaking in some high schools.

NIH Grants.  In an effort to combat the low approval rate of grant applications, NIH may ask universities to serve as the first round of reviewers, and have universities scale back on the number of applications each university submits.  This idea is unlikely to receive a warm welcome at universities.

Transmissions.  Interior announced the approval of the Gateway West Transmission Line Project that will provide a high-voltage line in parts of Wyoming and Idaho.  This project will upgrade transmission lines and facilitate the use of renewable energy.

Gainful Employment.  It’s back! Once again ED has released a new version of proposed gainful employment rules.  The proposed rules could have significant impact on availability of student aid for some programs deemed risky (ie low graduation rates and former students ability to repay loans).  Many for-profit institutions, in particular, are in increased jeopardy under the rules.

FTC & For-Profits.  At the same time the gainful employment rules are not looking pretty to for-profit institutions, the FTC is also announced guidelines aimed at for-profits “deceptive marketing practices” related to vocational programs.

COURTS:

Affirmative Action.  In the closely followed case of Fisher vs. UT at Austin, is back in court.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is re-examining the case, after the US Supreme Court instructed it do so, but this time with stricter scrutiny.  While universities can still consider race, the Supreme Court decision places an increased burden on universities to show other options don’t exist and it may come down to how a university defines sufficient diversity.

Fair Use. In a major victory for Google, a federal court found the Google’s Books program did not violated copyright law because the program fell under the “Fair Use” doctrine.

NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

Military Benefits.  Since its inception in 2009, over a million military members, veterans and their relatives have benefited from the post September 11 GI Bill, the Veterans Administration announced.  The benefits, which cover tuition and other related expenses, have exceeded $30 billion to date.

US Energy Production.  While the US appears to be on its way to energy self-sufficiency, a new report from the International Energy Agency indicates that in 10-15 years, the US and other nations (using natural gas and other “new” alternative sources) will be back to relying on OPEC countries for oil.  Moreover, demand for energy will likely continue to grow and outpace the increase in renewable sources, leading to increased carbon emissions.

Where is US Energy Produced? US energy production takes place around the country, but primarily Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana and North Dakota.  However, depending on the type of energy, coal, oil, natural gas, or electricity, the geographic location varies.

Online Education.  Carnegie Mellon is moving forward with a new project, The Global Learning Council, which brings together representatives from academia, industry, and the non-profit sector, in an effort to improve online education, including developing strategies in shared focus areas and standards to promote collaboration.  It will facilitate the sharing of data and using technology for outreach and improving education outcomes.

STEM Reality. Once again, the question of how many STEM graduates do we need is being raised.  According to some, “the STEM-worker shortage is not only a meme but a myth,” saying even STEM-trained graduates are facing unemployment (although not as high as other fields) because of a lack of jobs.  The debate will continue, but for now the Administration and Congress are gung-ho on STEM.

Internationals in US.  A new report finds that international students still come to the US.  Some interesting facts about those students include: Over a quarter (28.7%) of all foreign students in US come from China; the majority (63.6%) of foreign students are funded by their parents; and, Foreign students are found in: business schools, English-language programs; and in doctoral universities.  At the same time, more American students studying abroad, but overall percent is low (1.4%)

Cellulosic Ethanol’s Promise.  While cellulosic ethanol appeared to have great promise, the reality is far different.  By now, we expected to see more of it on the market, but the producers “had trouble cutting the costs of enzymes, collecting the bulky raw materials and raising capital, especially in the economic slowdown,” according to The Washington Post.

Ethanol – Good for the Environment or Not?  The debate on the environmental benefits of ethanol continues.  Although portrayed as a green alternative, ethanol was always simply a value-added activity to provide more income to farmers.  Most recently, a AP reported on the extensive damage caused by the promotion of ethanol, as farmers found incentives to destroy lands in the rush to plant corn, thereby destroying habitats (taking land out of conservation) and contaminating local waterways (with nutrients).

IN THE KNOW: EVENTS TO CONSIDER

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

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