DC Digest – July 21, 2014

In Today’s Issue:

  • This Week in Washington
  • Senate Appropriations Committee Increases Basic Research Funding
  • House Approves Package of Five Charitable Giving Tax Provisions
  • Higher Education Community Expresses Concerns Over Black-Davis Tax Credit Bill
  • Senate Commerce Holds Hearing on Value of Federally Funded Research
  • Senate Passes Extension of Terrorism Risk Insurance
  • Associations Submit Comments on Net Neutrality


Capitol Hill: Congress adjourns for August recess next Thursday, and leadership hopes to have passed legislation by then that will keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent past Aug. 1, along with a measure reforming the Veterans’ Affairs health care system. At the center of both sets of negotiations is funding: how much each legislation will cost and how, if at all, that cost will be offset. Meanwhile, the President’s nominee for VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, will testify in a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Foreign Policy: With the ongoing situations in Israel-Palestine, Ukraine, and the U.S.’s southern border, much of Washington will be focused on foreign policy. Secretary of State John Kerry has gone to Cairo to help with Israel-Palestine negotiations while the President will host his counterparts from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala at a White House meeting Friday to discuss the situation on the southern border.

Economic Matters: This week brings an update on the Consumer Price Index, which is a key marker for the rate of inflation. There will also be an update to the strength of the housing market, which Janet Yellen, Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, called “surprisingly disappointing” in Congressional testimony last week.

Read More:
Week’s Action Includes Possible Highway Trust Fund Vote in Senate (rollcall.com)
Kerry heads to Mideast in bid for cease-fire (washingtonpost.com)
Obama to meet with Central American Presidents over border crisis (msnbc.com)
US economy not getting a lot of help from its friends (marketwatch.com)

The Senate Appropriations Committee on July 17 approved the FY15 Defense appropriations bill, providing strong support for basic research accounts that would be significantly cut in the House-approved bill and the Administration’s budget. Although the Senate bill would cut funding for other Defense research and development programs, the measure would increase the budget for basic research (6.1) programs by $108 million, or five percent, to $2.27 billion.

Compared to FY14 funding, the Senate bill would cut overall appropriations for Defense research, development, testing & evaluation by $428 million, to $62.6 billion; Defense science and technology (S&T) would be cut by $146 million, or 1.2 percent, to $12 billion. Within that total, applied research (6.2) would be cut by $50.5 million, or 1.1 percent, to $4.59 billion, and advanced technology development (6.3) would be reduced by $203 million, or 3.8 percent, to $5.17 billion.

Read More:
FY15 Defense Full Committee Markup Summary (appropriations.senate.gov)
AAU DOD Budget Chart (aau.edu)


The House on July 17 approved the America Gives More Act of 2014 (H.R. 4719), a package of five charitable giving tax provisions, which includes a permanent extension of the IRA Charitable Rollover. The IRA Rollover extension is supported strongly by the higher education community; a group of higher education associations sent a letter to all Members of the House on July 17 explaining the provision and urging them to extend it permanently.

The Obama Administration has issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing the bill because it includes no funding offsets for its estimated 10-year cost of $16 billion.

Read More:
Higher Ed Letter Supporting Extension (pdf)
Floor Statement on H.R. 4719 by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (Waysandmeans.house.gov)
Statement of Administration Policy (whitehouse.gov)


A group of higher education associations has written to all Members of the House expressing concerns about the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393), which is expected to be considered on the House floor this week.

The letter notes that the legislation, introduced by Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Danny Davis (D-IL), contains a welcome consolidation and simplification of current higher education tax credits, as well as better coordination with the Pell Grant. The letter adds, however, that other proposed changes would harm many low- and middle-income students who benefit from current law, as well as graduate students and lifetime learners who use the current tax deduction or the Lifetime Learning Credit. As a result, it adds, “we cannot support the bill as currently written,” even with the improvements made during markup. The associations urge that the bill be further modified to ensure that students currently eligible for a federal tax benefit remain eligible for some benefit.

Duke OFR is engaged in the issue and will provide updates as they become available.

Read More:
Letter of Concern over HR 3393 (aau.edu)
Press release for Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (black.house.gov)

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation held a hearing on July 17 to review the federal government’s role in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said the hearing would help inform development of the committee’s reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.

In his written opening statement, Chairman Rockefeller said his COMPETES bill “would make it clear that the United States is committed to leading the world in science and engineering. That means getting kids excited about STEM, funding a wide-range of research, and making sure that the best research results make it to the marketplace.”

The session featured Vinton Cerf, co-founder of the Internet; Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina; former NSF Director Neal Lane; and Carnegie Mellon University Professor Stephen Fienberg.

Read More:
The Federal Research Portfolio: Capitalizing on Investments in R&D (commerce.senate.gov)
Chairman Rockefeller Opening Statement (commerce.senate.gov)

The Senate on July 17 approved legislation (S. 2244) to renew for seven years the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which is set to expire this year. A group of higher education associations sent a letter to every Senator in advance of floor consideration urging them to approve the measure.

Earlier this year, the associations sent a similar letter to the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction detailing why reauthorization of TRIA is important to colleges and universities. They noted that more than a decade after the tragic events of September 11, American colleges and universities remain potential “soft targets” for terrorism. Through TRIA, they have been able to obtain adequate, reasonably priced insurance covering such potential events. Without TRIA, many colleges and universities would face the difficult choice of either forgoing terrorism insurance or purchasing more limited coverage at higher cost.

Read More:
Banking Committee Members Laud Senate TRIA Passage (banking.senate.gov)
Higher Ed Letter to Senate on TRIA Reauthorization (acenet.edu)

A group of 11 higher education and library groups last week submitted detailed comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the agency’s proposed rule on protecting and promoting the open Internet. On July 10, these same organizations released a set of net neutrality principles which they said should form the basis of the FCC’s policy.

In the latest comments, the associations express concern that the proposed FCC rules “fall short of what is necessary to ensure that libraries, institutions of higher education and the public at large will have access to an open Internet.” They offer several suggestions for strengthening the rules, including the following:

·       the proposed open Internet rules should explicitly apply to public broadband Internet access service provided to libraries, institutions of higher education, and other public interest organizations;
·       the rules should prohibit “paid prioritization;”
·       the proposed rules should be technology-neutral and should apply equally to fixed and mobile services;
·       the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should adopt a re-defined “no-blocking” rule that bars public broadband Internet access providers from interfering with the consumer’s choice of content, applications, or services;
·       the FCC should strengthen the disclosure rules; and
·       the proposed ombudsman should be charged with protecting the interests of libraries and higher education institutions and other public interest organizations, in addition to consumers and small businesses.

Read More:
Comments to FCC on Net Neutrality (aau.edu)
Net Neutrality Principles (aau.edu)