Government Relations Report: March 2016

Funding for FY 2017 was supposed to be easy and noncontroversial. After all, at the end of last year, the Administration and the Congress agreed on a two-year budget and appropriations deal that established how much money would be available in FY 2016 and FY 2017 for non-defense discretionary programs. To date, FY 2017 funding has been every bit as controversial as previous years.

In the middle of the month, Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus decided not to support a FY 2017 budget of $1.07 trillion proposed by House Republican leadership that was consistent with the recently negotiated deal. They instead argued that the budget should be capped at the $1.04 trillion sequester level.

On March 16th, the House Budget Committee reported a Budget Resolution for FY 2017 does not abide by the FY16-17 Budget agreement. It proposes to balance the budget in 10 years without adding new revenues or meaningfully reducing either defense spending or Social Security. If adopted and the suggested policy options in the Committee’s Report were followed, it would result in deep cuts in a wide variety of education and other programs, such as:

  • The elimination of mandatory Pell grants;
  • Freezing the Pell maximum at the FY 16 level for next ten years;
  • The elimination of the in-school interest subsidy;
  • Possibly setting a maximum-income cap for Pell;
  • The elimination of Pell eligibility for less-than-half-time students;
  • The elimination of Administrative Fees Paid to Schools in the Campus-Based Student-Aid Programs;
  • The elimination of funding for The Institute of Museum and Library Services;
  • The elimination of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting;
  • A recommendation to end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program;
  • A phase-out of Eligibility for TEACH Grants;
  • A variety of changes to GI Bill education benefits;
  • Further cuts to the Workforce system;
  • The elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service; and
  • A reduction in SNAP funds and turning it into a block grant.

With regard to job-training programs, the proposed House budget suggests “further consolidation of duplicative Federal job-training programs and improved coordination with the recently reformed workforce development system. This budget will also improve the remaining programs’ accountability by aligning their performance indicators with those passed as part of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. A streamlined approach with increased oversight and accountability will not only provide administrative savings, but will improve access, choice, and flexibility, enabling workers and job seekers to respond quickly and effectively to whatever specific career challenges they face. In addition, the budget recommends a 15-percent State flexibility allotment under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.”

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 62 percent of the cuts recommended by the House Budget Committee come from programs intended to benefit low and moderate-income people.

The House Republican Majority again finds itself in the familiar position of not being able to pass a bill because it cannot get a majority of Republican votes. In this case, the budget produced by the House Budget Committee alienates moderate Republicans, and cannot get Democratic support because it proposes cuts that the Democratic members will not vote for.

Adding to the confusion is news that House Republicans might try to tie funding for discretionary programs to additional cuts in entitlements. This would lead to a disconnect between the House and Senate appropriations bills because the Senate has given every indication that it will abide by the recent Budget agreement. Still another impediment to completing Appropriations bills is the insistence of House Republicans that legislative proposals or “riders” be attached to different Appropriations bills.

For the time being, at least, the chances that Congress will pass a Budget Resolution are exceedingly slim. It would be difficult, in any case, for the House to vote on all twelve annual spending bills between May 15 and the September 30 deadline — a task made more challenging in this Presidential election year.  The chances of a Continuing Resolution (CR) being needed to keep the government open beyond September 30th are significantly increased.

In the meantime, the House did begin consideration of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, even though Speaker Ryan said that he would not allow votes on the bill until the budget impasse was resolved.

As we have indicated, for a variety of reasons — commitments to VA health, declining HUD receipts, and unforeseen crises like the Zika virus — Appropriators are warning that there will have to be cuts in spending this year. As one staff person told us, “This year, a freeze is a win.” One area that is drawing interest is that there is a Pell grant surplus estimated at $8 billion that could be used to mitigate cuts in other programs or to help fund “year-round” Pell. The Higher Education community typically opposes drawing down the Pell surplus, but the issue is on the table.

While Appropriators continue to express the hope that they will be able to complete their work, some are facing the reality of the situation. On March 25th, CQ quoted Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Chair of the House Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, who said “Congress will probably need to pass a continuing resolution in September to avoid a government shutdown when current funding expires and fiscal 2017 begins.” The article went on to report that “Cole said he hoped negotiators would be able to pull together an omnibus in a post-election, lame-duck period so that the new administration wouldn’t have to deal with the headache of spending negotiations from the outset. …The Oklahoma lawmaker added that whichever party wins the White House, and which side is set to control the Senate, would have a stronger hand in negotiating an omnibus in late November or December.”

March on the Hill

On March 16th, NCSDAE held it’s annual March on the Hill event, bringing eleven State Directors or their representatives to Washington D.C. to meet with Congressional staff about the importance of adult education and the impact that federal adult education funding through Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act has on adult learners back home. Collectively we participated in 38 meetings. You can read a full report here.

In then process we identified new champions. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard posed a question to Education Secretary King about why the Administration did not ask for more funds for Adult Education and pushed back when she thought his answer was inadequate. (You can watch this exchange here.)

Two additional thoughts: Jon Kerr (state director from Washington) also visited with his governor’s D.C. office (every state has an office here) as part of this year’s event. As an organization, we do reach out to individual state offices and with national associations here in town that represent mayors and other local elected officials. We’d be interested in hearing from members interested in making connections with these organizations as well.

We also have begun discussing a plan to include representatives from the private sector to our Hill visits in order to strengthen the case that investment in Adult Education strengthens the economy. Again, we welcome your thoughts on potential business and other private sector champions in your state who might be interested.

Other Legislation:

  • The CTE community anticipates that the Senate HELP Committee will distribute for comment a draft bill within the next several weeks. The House is moving more slowly.
  • No one seriously thinks that the Congress will take up the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this year.
  • Action on ESRA remains stalled.

Government Relations Report: February 2016

The elation that accompanied the signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act has been short-lived. That legislation reflected a new two-year agreement (Bipartisan Budget Act or BBA) between the Administration and Congress to raise the spending caps in Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. It is now becoming increasingly obvious that the caps are too low to accommodate all the non-defense domestic discretionary spending that advocates want and too high to satisfy many House Republicans.

At this writing, House Republicans have yet to agree on the content of a Congressional Budget Resolution for FY 2017.  The Republican Study Committee and the Freedom Caucus, two organizations of conservative members of the House, have announced their opposition to the spending caps agreed to just a few months ago. These Members want the caps to be reduced or offset by an additional $30 billion in cuts in mandatory programs. In fact, the RSC would like to keep the defense cap in place, but take the entire $30 billion from non-defense discretionary programs, which would reduce them by almost 6% below FY 2016.

It is not yet clear whether this proposal can pass the House. This has thrown a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Appropriations bills for FY 20217 are predicated on the $1.070 trillion level included in the BBA.

Both Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan have pledged to act on appropriations bills. But, proposing a budget of less than $1.070 trillion will inevitably result in the Senate blocking any bill that passed the House and could prevent the House from taking up bills with popular programs in them because Members would not want to be on record supporting deep cuts in those programs in an election year

If, as many predict, a solution is not found to this likely stalemate by September 30th, Congress will be forced to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) at the FY 2016 levels. The length of that CR will likely be influenced by the results of the elections in November.

Other Legislation

CTE Reauthorization:  CTE remains everyone’s candidate for the Education bill most likely to get done this year. We are working with Sen. Reed (Rhode Island) on a series of amendments intended to strengthen the relationship between Adult Education and CTE.

ESRA:  You may recall that we worked closely with Sen. Reed to strengthen language in the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) with regard to Adult Education. The bill that passed the Senate with this language included makes it clear that the mission of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to “provide national leadership in expanding fundamental knowledge and understanding of education” includes adult education. The Senate also agreed to language that added “improving access to, opportunities for, and completion of postsecondary education and adult education” to the list of the Institute’s priorities. The Reed amendment also added “State leaders in adult education” to the list of those who may serve on the National Board for Education Sciences and added adult literacy data to the list of types of statistical data to be collected, reported, analyzed, and disseminated by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Finally, it added “access to, and opportunity for, adult education and literacy activities” to the list of topics that the Center is supposed to collect data on.

ESRA, now known as SETRA (the Strengthening Education Through Research Act) has become ensnarled in two issues that have slowed its progress through the Congress. First, is a concern that the research could infringe on privacy rights. The second is that the Senate version of the bill refers to “social/emotional learning,” which has caught the attention of the blogosphere. Congressional staff seems cautiously optimistic that these concerns can be successfully addressed.

Reminder: Please call your senator to ask that he/she sign on the Reed-Blumenthal letter seeking increased funding for Adult Education.