Government Relations Report: April 2016

Appropriations

The Congress, when it is in session, is continuing to consider FY 2017 Appropriations bills. It appears that the House and Senate may consider the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill in late June.

As you may recall, aggregate domestic discretionary spending current fiscal and year and the next was the subject of a two-year agreement between the Congress and the Administration. We’ve noted that Republicans on the House Budget Committee have decided not to abide by that agreement, while the Senate is adhering to it.

Each of the 12 Appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate ultimately receives an allocation for the fiscal year, the so-called 302(b) allocation named after the relevant section of the Budget Act. That allocation is a cap on what the subcommittee can spend. The House Appropriations Subcommittee has not released its allocations but seems to be telling each subcommittee what its cap is once the bills are actually being considered. The Senate Subcommittee did release its allocation to Labor-HHS: $161.8 billion, about $300 million below the FY 16 level. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Senior Democrat on the Committee, called the allocation “snug but fair” perhaps suggesting that, if other things fall into place, the Senate Democrats could work with the Republican majority to produce a bi-partisan bill.

In March, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual projections for the Pell Grant program. The revised cost estimates revealed a large projected surplus for the program over the next several fiscal years. In FY 2017 alone, the surplus is now estimated at $8.7 billion. This had led to calls to use the surplus to reinstate year-round Pell Grants. However, Congress could use the surplus to fund other programs, including non-education programs. At least as of now, House Republicans are not planning on using the Pell Grant surplus in their bill. But rumors persist that Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Subcommittee have agreed to a deal to use the surplus to fund some version of year-round Pell, add $1 billon to NIH, and use $500 million to fund programs authorized in the new ESSA legislation.

Meanwhile, the House is waiting until May 16 to consider Appropriations bills and the Senate process may be falling apart because the Senate is bogged down over an issue concerning purchases of Iranian heavy water. For those of us of a certain age this calls to mind Roseanne Rosannadanna’s immortal insight “It’s always something.”

It is now abundantly clear that the Congress will not complete work on all 12 Appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year and that there will need to be a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will run from September until well after the elections. Issues will be resolved in December and will presumably be included in an Omnibus Appropriations bill.

Other Legislation

In a recent briefing, Senate Republican staff reiterated the Senate HELP Committee’s commitment to producing a draft of a CTE reauthorization bill this year. They indicated that hoped to have a discussion draft available for comment in the near future.

House Republican staff said that they are in the early stages of negotiating with Democrats and that “everyone wants to get it done.” They said they wanted to circulate a discussion draft in advance of a House vote in July. They said they were mindful of the need to align CTE with WIOA and ESSA. They foresaw the federal role in CTE as one issue that could divide Republicans and Democrats, and said this issue, and other difficult issues, had not yet been addressed in their meetings with Democrats. They also expressed concern that the Administration was “not in sync” with the Hill with regard to CTE reauthorization.

We are continuing to work with Senate staff on a package of amendments that will strengthen the connections between Adult Education and CTE.

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