DC Digest – July 21, 2017

In Today’s Issue:
  • Sanford on the Hill
  • House Appropriations Update: Ed, Energy & Water
  • Student Loans
  • Debt Ceiling
  • Foreign Students and Net Neutrality
  • GI Bill



POLIS, Sanford’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service, hosted its annual event on Capitol Hill Monday, July 17. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL), David Price (D-NC), and Bradley Byrne (R-AL) came by to pay tribute to Duke University and its work educating the next generation of policymakers. Senators Capito and Hassan then sat for a discussion with Director of POLIS and Associate Dean of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society Frederick “Fritz” Mayer. Capito, Byrne, and Lipinski are Duke alumni.

USS Bipartisanship


Yesterday, July 20, the full House Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2018 Labor, HHS, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill by a 28-22 partisan vote. The details of the HHS Appropriations sections can be found in our previous Digest post linked below.

The Health of Nations 

Department of Education

Overall, the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget is reduced by $2.4 billion below the FY 2017 level, while the higher education account is $17.3 million below FY 2017.

Title VI is funded at the FY 2017 level, thereby rejecting the administration’s proposal to eliminate the program entirely.  Fulbright-Hays, however, did not fare as well with total funding elimination. Since the House has not yet passed their FY 2018 budget, the appropriations subcommittee allocation numbers may change as the process moves forward.

Rep. David Price (D-NC) offered an amendment to reinstate funding for Fulbright-Hays, which was turned down on a voice vote.  Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) stated that he himself was a Fulbright scholar and is supportive of the Fulbright-Hays program. However, he opposed the amendment due to a “tight budget allocation” (the rationale for opposing most of the amendments), but made a promise to work with Rep. Price in restoring the funding as the process moves forward.

Heading to the House Floor

The four-part spending package headed to the House floor next week will likely start with the least contentious bills: MilCon-VA and Legislative Branch (and maybe Energy-Water) with Defense getting debated in a second batch.

Energy and Water Spending Package

On Thursday, July 21, the Senate Appropriations committee sent its $38.4 billion energy and water spending package to the floor with limited amendments.

On a 30-1 vote, the committee advanced the measure, which rebukes the Trump Administration by providing $330 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and increases funds for DOE’s science office and delivering record funding for the Army Corps of Engineers after the president’s budget recommended steep cuts.

The energy and spending measure now heads to the full Senate for consideration, where it is expected to be one of the first appropriations measures taken up.


Republican and Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee raised concerns today about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ plan to select a single company to service all federal direct student loans.

“This movement not only defies Congressional directives, it also threatens our student loan borrowers by increasing risk within the system, eliminating competition and the need to perform well,” Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) said, adding that he’s worried about “decreased service levels for borrowers and increased defaults.”

One Plan to Rule Them All


Republicans are divided over whether to raise the debt ceiling before the August recess. While some senators want to act soon, House members are hesitant to take the contentious vote before the summer break. If Senate GOP members insist on acting before recess, they would need to send a bill to the House in the next two weeks, before the lower chamber breaks for recess at the end of July.

Republicans will need Democrats to back the legislation, because conservatives won’t vote for a debt ceiling increase without steep spending cuts. “We are prepared to work together in a responsible fashion,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-5TH) told reporters today, adding that the extension would need to be “clean.”


A dozen higher education associations including AAU (of which Duke is a member) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly this week opposing the administration’s consideration of tighter restrictions on foreign students.

“If an applicant can only be guaranteed duration of status for one year at a time, this will greatly hamper their ability to complete their course of study or transfer programs,” the letter reads. “When faced with up to a 400 percent increase in fees, redundant forms, and restrictive validity periods, an applicant will likely opt to pursue their studies elsewhere.”

Net Neutrality

Yesterday, July 20, AAU joined several higher education and library associations in a comment letter opposing efforts to rescind the current network neutrality rules. The letter expresses concern that unless the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maintains strong, enforceable network neutrality rules, Internet access providers will have the financial incentive to block, degrade, or prioritize the transmission of some at the expense of others.

Upset Neutrality


On Tuesday, July 19, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved a sweeping, bipartisan bill to expand the educational benefits to veterans and their families under the GI Bill. The bill now heads to the full House, where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said lawmakers will pass it before leaving for the August recess.


There are 4 legislative days to go in the House and 15 in the Senate until the August recess.