DC Digest — August 5, Mid-Session Update

In today’s issue:

  • Spotlight on: Duke in Washington Activity
  • Duke Congressional Briefing Wrap-Up
  • Sequestration and the FY2013 Budget
  • Appropriations and FY2014 Budget
  • STUDENT LOANS: Congress Approves Bill with Market-Based Rate
  • IMMIGRATION: Senate Passes Comprehensive Reform, Fate in the House Remains Unclear
  • Higher Education Act Set for Reauthorization
  • TAX REFORM: Senators Call for Input, Proposals
  • Discussion Regarding Social Science Research Remains Ongoing

Summertime at the Duke in Washington office has been a busy, exciting season with visitors from across the university community. The Summer Law Institute brought in professors, alumni, students, and local professionals for evening classes; while the Nicholas Institute held a series of meetings with administration officials. Alumni have been spotted networking and engaging with speakers on topics from human rights to effective communication in the workplace.


An audience of over 60 professionals from across the federal government gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a presentation on recent advances in research of X-ray technology and the visual cognition performance of Transportation Security Administration screeners. David Brady, Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Stephen Mitroff, Associate Professor of Pyschology and Neuroscience, led the discussion, highlighting federally-funded research projects at Duke University with real-life implications. Representative David Price provided opening remarks and Robin Hamilton, an Emmy-award winning journalist and Duke alumna, served as moderator.

Read More:
Duke University Research Could Improve X-ray Screening at Airports (newsobserver.com)


On March 1, with Congress unable to reach a solution to the across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration,” the Office of Management and Budget issued a notice to all federal agencies with the instruction to reduce their budgets to the funding levels mandated. These levels have remained in place for the remainder of FY13, and while the full effect of the sequester will not be known for some time, Duke University officials have actively voiced their concern over the budget cuts.

Since the enactment, Duke’s Office of Federal Relations has been engaged in a variety of activities in North Carolina and Washington, advocating for an end to the sequestration.  In addition, in early July, Vice-Provost for Research Jim Siedow participated in a roundtable discussion on the impacts of the sequester on university research. On July 31, President Brodhead joined other university leaders in calling for an end to the “Innovation Deficit” resulting from the decrease in investments to research and education.

Read More:
Open Letter from College and University Presidents to Congress (innovationdeficit.org)
Slow growing cancer” (Inside Higher Ed)


The Administration’s FY 14 budget request was delayed for nearly two months as officials dealt with the late resolution of the FY 13 budget and start of sequestration.  However, for the first time in four years, the House and Senate each passed a budget framework for the fiscal year 2014. The respective plans are $91 billion apart in their FY14 discretionary spending totals, with the Republican-led House not only retaining the sequester in FY14 but also focusing the additional funding cuts on domestic agencies and programs, while the Democratic-led Senate is using a higher spending figure that assumes the sequester will be lifted.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees, for their part, have been considering and passing FY14 funding bills according to their respective frameworks. Updated charts on the status of programs important to the higher education community may be found here.

Following the August recess, the House has nine days, while the Senate has 16 days, designated for considering legislation before the end of FY13, the day by which they will need to pass a measure funding the government for all, or part, of FY14. As of now, the President has yet to sign even one of the 13 appropriations bills.


A month after the interest-rates on federally subsidized student loans automatically increased from a set-rate of 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, Congress approved the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 (S. 1334), which will send the measure to the President who has said he will sign it into law.

The final bill is similar to the market-based plan offered by the Administration and modified and approved by the House (H.R. 1911).  The measure also includes a rate cap and locks in the interest rate on a loan when it is first made, rather than allowing the rate to vary over the life of the loan, as in the House-passed bill.

The bill would peg the interest rate for federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans for undergraduates at the 10-year Treasury bond yield plus 2.05 percent, with rates for unsubsidized loans for graduate students at plus 3.6 percent, and for parents at plus 4.6 percent.  The rates would be capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduates, at 9.5 for graduate students, and at 10.5 percent for parents.  For undergraduates this fall, the loan rate would be 3.86 percent.

Duke University worked closely with Senator Burr (R-NC) and other peer institutions in crafting a solution that best addressed the concerns of the Duke community.

Read More:
House passes student loan rate fix (politico.com)
Senators Manchin, Burr, Coburn, Alexander, King Introduce Bipartisan Permanent Student Loan Solution (burr.senate.gov)


On June 28, the Senate approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act by a vote of 68-32. Following this vote, Duke University President Richard Brodhead sent a letter to North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan thanking her for her support of the bill. In the letter, President Brodhead said the current bill would mean that “pursuing an education or research at Duke will be less complicated for the thousands of students and faculty who come to Durham each year from countries all over the world.”

On July 29, members of the higher education community sent a letter to all members of the House of Representatives urging them to pass bipartisan immigration reform this fall that could ultimately be signed into law by President Obama. The letter focused on three major areas of particular concern to higher education:  1) the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for children brought to the U.S. illegally at an early age and who attend college or serve in the military; 2) modernization of the green card process for advanced degree graduates; and 3) modernization of non-immigrant visas.

Duke University officials remained engaged and are advocating on behalf of reform proposals that would benefit the Duke University community.


In April, lawmakers in the House and Senate began preliminary hearings on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, set to expire at the end of this year. As the main piece of legislation regarding student financial aid, teacher quality, and college costs, the Duke Office of Federal Affairs will be carefully monitoring the reauthorization process.

Leadership in the House Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions issued an open call for comments, suggestions, and proposals for the legislation, which they could begin drafting as early as this fall.

Read More:
Letter from American Association of Universities (pdf)


In late June, Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to their colleagues, requesting input and suggestions for reforming the United States tax code. In the letter, the two Senators said they intended to begin work on tax reform with a “blank slate,” with no special provisions in the form of tax exclusions, deductions, or credits.  Senators were asked to formally submit their views on which of these “tax expenditures” should be sustained in a reformed tax code because they meet tests of growth, fairness, and promoting other policy objectives.  Senators were also asked to identify which provisions they believe should be dropped.

There are several tax provisions that affect the higher education community that are set to expire on December 31, 2013, among them the tuition deduction, IRA charitable rollover, and the Research and Development Tax Credit.

The Senators did not lay out a timeline for drafting legislation, but Duke University officials will be watching the process carefully and encouraging the advancement of our priorities for preserving strong charitable giving incentives, improving student tax provisions, and supporting other provisions of importance to a research university.


Discussion continued in the 113th Congress regarding the value of federal investments in social, behavioral and economic sciences, with some members seeking to limit the funding and influence of research opportunities. During the debate over a bill to provide government funding for the rest of FY13, the Senate passed an amendment, offered by Tom Coburn (R-OK), that prohibited the National Science Foundation from supporting political science research projects not certified as “promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” In the House of Representatives, the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has called into question the value of this research through its statement and hearing on the FY 14 budget request, and as part of the NSF reauthorization process. Further debate regarding the value and necessity for funding SBE research projects will likely continue as Congress considers funding for FY14. As the conversation continues, the Duke University Office of Federal Relations will remain engaged and actively monitor the situation.