DC Digest — July 2015

In today’s issue —

  • Duke Faculty Testify Before House, Senate Subcommittees
  • Senate Committee Chairman Outlines Priorities, Schedule for HEA Reauthorization
  • FY16 Appropriations Update
  • House Leaders Postpone Consideration of Innovation Act
  • House Approves 21st Century Cures Act
  • Senate Finance Committee Approves Tax Extenders Package
  • Higher Ed Community Submits Concerns About Rule on Management of Student Aid Funds
  • Higher Ed Community Asked to Share Stories of Social Science
  • AAU and The Science Coalition Convene SRO Media Roundtable

 

DUKE FACULTY TESTIFY BEFORE HOUSE, SENATE SUBCOMMITTEES
During the month of July, two Duke faculty members appeared before Congressional subcommittees to provide testimony on issues relating to the environment and the First Amendment.

On July 14, Douglas Nowacek, professor of conservation technology at the Nicholas School of the Environment, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources about the impacts of seismic activity on whales and other ocean life.

On July 22, Neil Siegel, professor of law and political science at the Duke Law School, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, on possible reforms to the Supreme Court.

Read More:
Nowacek Testifies Before Congress on Impacts of Seismic Activity on Marine Life (nicholas.duke.edu)
Siegel testifies on Capitol Hill about recent Supreme Court rulings and allegations of judicial activism (law.duke.edu)

 

SENATE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN OUTLINES PRIORITIES, SCHEDULE FOR HEA REAUTHORIZATION
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on July 16, Senate education committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) outlined four goals for his panel’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), and offered an ambitious schedule for Committee consideration of a bill. He hopes that he and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) can present their bill to the full Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in September, with Committee approval “hopefully by October,” and possible floor consideration later this year.

Speaking within the context of the cost of college and the value of a higher education, the Senator said the Committee’s bill would include “many” of the recommendations to reduce the regulatory burden on higher education that were contained in the report that he and three HELP Committee colleagues commissioned in 2013. The panel that issued the report was co-chaired by Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nick Zeppos and then-University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan.

Senator Alexander added that the HEA reauthorization bill also would seek to end the “federal collection and dissemination of useless data,” improve the accreditation system, and ensure that institutions begin sharing in the risk of lending to students. In April, the HELP Committee solicited views on accreditation, to which AAU submitted comments.

In the House of Representatives, the Education and the Workforce Committee has developed background materials for its HEA reauthorization process but has not announced a schedule for the introduction and consideration of a bill.

Read More:
Sen. Alexander’s Keynote Speech to American Enterprise Institute (help.senate.gov)
AAU comments on accreditation provisions in the HEA (aau.edu)

FY16 APPROPRIATIONS UPDATE
The FY16 appropriations process appears to have ground to a halt, with neither chamber of Congress having taken up appropriations measures in the final two weeks before the August recess. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), has asked his leadership to begin broad budget negotiations with Democrats-which is what the White House and congressional Democrats continue to insist on-but there is no indication of when that might occur.

For now, the likely scenario is that Congress approves a continuing resolution to fund the government at its current levels beyond the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, with some type of year-end negotiations. Neither political party wants to be blamed for a government shutdown on October 1.

Late-hour budget agreements have become typical in recent years, but House and Senate Republican leaders had hoped to use their control of both chambers to promote “regular order” in the annual appropriations process. The funding bills have moved more smoothly through committee, but House Democrats last week were able to stymie floor consideration of the Interior appropriations bill over the issue of displaying the Confederate flag on federal lands. Senate Democrats continue to use the threat of a filibuster to block any FY16 funding bills from the floor unless Republicans agree to increase funding for nondefense discretionary programs commensurate with increases for defense.

HOUSE LEADERS POSTPONE CONSIDERATION OF INNOVATION ACT
House leaders are delaying consideration of the Innovation Act (H.R. 9) until after the August recess, reports CQ.com. The measure, which had been expected to go to the House floor this week, aims to address abusive patent litigation. But H.R. 9 is opposed by many groups, including AAU, of which Duke is a member, as going too far and making all patents more difficult to enforce.

During July, three influential conservative groups launched a print and electronic media campaign against the bill, while a bipartisan, bicameral group on Capitol Hill held a press conference on July 14 to speak out against the bill and call for a more targeted approach to rein in patent “trolls.”

Read More:
Higher Education Association Statement on the Innovation Act (aau.edu)

 

HOUSE APPROVES 21ST CENTURY CURES ACT
On July 9, the House approved the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6), a bill that focuses on speeding drugs to market but also includes an Innovation Fund for the National Institutes of Health, which would receive a total of $8.75 in mandatory spending spread over five years.

During consideration, House leaders and the bill sponsors were able to defeat an amendment offered by Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) that would have changed funding for the Innovation Fund from mandatory to discretionary spending, where it would have competed with other health programs and education programs, including student financial aid. No companion bill has yet been introduced in the Senate.

Read More:
AAU Statement of Support for 21st Century Cures Act (aau.edu)

 

SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE APPROVES TAX EXTENDER PACKAGE
The Senate Finance Committee on July 21 approved a tax-extender bill that includes an extension through December 31, 2016, of two provisions of importance to higher education: the above-the-line tax deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses and the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Charitable Rollover. Both provisions expired last December.

In the House, Ways and Means Committee staffers indicate that the panel does not plan to address extenders on a stand-alone basis until later this year. At the moment, House leaders are focused on determining whether or not they can include an “international-only” tax reform package in an extension of the highway trust fund. If this effort comes together, the House is likely to add extenders to the package. If this effort does not yield results after the August recess, however, the House is likely to consider the tax extenders as a stand-alone package.

 

HIGHER ED COMMUNITY SUBMITS CONCERNS ABOUT PROPOSED RULE ON MANAGEMENT OF STUDENT AID FUNDS
A group of 10 higher education associations, including AAU, submitted comments to the Department of Education on July 2 expressing several concerns about the Department’s proposed rule on institutions’ management of federal student aid funds.

Among the chief concerns is that the proposed rule is too prescriptive and expensive to implement and would prompt third-party servicers and banks to abandon this market, leaving colleges and universities without valuable partners who have helped them improve services to students.

Read More:
Letter to Department of Education on proposed rules (aau.edu)

 

HIGHER ED COMMUNITY ASKED TO SHARE SOCIAL SCIENCE STORIES
The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) has launched a campaign to highlight the value of federally funded social and behavioral sciences research by sharing stories of success.

Members of the higher education community are asked to submit stories about social and behavioral research that has advanced science, led to important products or therapies, or resulted in important applications in health, national security, or the economy.

Read More:
Share Your Social Science Stories Submission form (cossa.org)

 

AAU AND THE SCIENCE COALITION CONVENE SRO MEDIA ROUNDTABLE
AAU and The Science Coalition on July 15 hosted their sixth annual media roundtable, with 10 university senior research officers (SROs) and a group of about a dozen reporters.

During the session, “All Things Research,” participants discussed three general issues: science and the national interest, economic development and the research university, and the possibility of the U.S. facing an innovation deficit.

The SROs participating were from: Boston University; Emory University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Northwestern University; Stony Brook University; The Johns Hopkins University; University of California, Riverside; University of Pittsburgh; University of South Florida; and West Virginia University.

Watch:
All Things Research video recording (youtube.com)