DC Digest – March 16, 2015

In Today’s Issue:

  • This Week in Washington
  • Sanford’s Taylor to Talk Doc Fix and Supreme Court with Hill Staff
  • Two Senate Panels Plan Hearings on Patent Legislation
  • Profs Urge Congress Not to Change Patent Patent Policy Based on Bad Data
  • Obama Proposes Student Aid Bill of Rights
  • House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Strengthening Higher Education
  • Education Department Considers Second College-Ratings System
  • Student Aid Alliance Urges Appropriations Leaders to Restore Student Aid


THIS WEEK IN WASHINGTON
Capitol Hill: The Senate continues to debate human trafficking legislation this week, hoping to resolve a disagreement over an amendment banning the use of federal funds for abortions that caused the bill to stall last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has said the Senate will not vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to become the next Attorney General until after full consideration of the human trafficking legislation. The House of Representatives will fill their week considering bills relating to the Affordable Care Act and legislation governing union elections.

Budget: Republicans in both chambers are still hoping to secure the first Republican budget plan in nearly a decade. However, negotiations on the resolution are revealing a chasm between fiscal hawks determined to maintain strict spending caps and defense hawks who are threatening to derail any budget that does not ensure an increase for the military. Congressional leaders plan to unveil their proposal on Tuesday and hope for passage before the Easter and Passover recess that begins March 27.

Is the Fed still ‘Patient’?: On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Open Committee will release a statement on their latest meeting — and market watchers will be looking for one key word: patient. Since economic recovery began, the Fed has used the word “patient” to characterize its willingness to wait before it begins to hike rates. But thanks to the improving economic data, most economists believe the Fed will drop the word “patient” from its language, signaling a somewhat greater sense of urgency to hike rates. This could indicate how soon the Fed will look to raise interest rates following their June meeting.

Read More:
This week: Human Trafficking, Lynch top lawmakers agenda (thehill.com)
Chasm grows within the G.O.P over spending (nytimes.com)
Monday Scouting Report (businessinsider.com)


SANFORD’S TAYLOR TO TALK DOC FIX AND SUPREME COURT
WITH HILL STAFF
Don Taylor, associate professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, will on Thursday afternoon share his expertise related to healthcare policy with congressional staff during an informal roundtable discussion in a House office building on Capitol Hill.  Specifically, Taylor will discuss Congress’s plan to eliminate the “doc fix” by replacing the Sustainable Growth Rate, an outdated formula that calls for frequent and deep cuts to Medicare providers, with a new payment system. He’ll also address the impact of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on King v. Burwell, a case considering the legality of subsidies in the federal health care exchange set up by the Affordable Care Act.

TWO SENATE PANELS PLAN HEARINGS THIS WEEK ON PATENT LEGISLATION
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on March 18 titled, “The Impact of Abusive Patent Litigation Practices on the American Economy.” The hearing will broadly address perceived abuses of the patent litigation system, including fraudulent demand letters and nuisance lawsuits. The session is likely to touch on particular issues that are the subject of the Innovation Act (H.R. 9), the patent reform legislation currently pending in the House.

The following day, March 19, the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship will hold a hearing tentatively titled, “Patent Reform: Protecting Innovation and Entrepreneurship.” The hearing will focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs, examining how they interact with the patent system and the potential impact on them of proposed patent legislation.

As reported in previous DC Digests, Duke signed on to a letter warning that current patent legislation that is being considered in Congress would harm the U.S. innovation system.

PROFESSORS URGE CONGRESS NOT TO CHANGE U.S. PATENT POLICY BASED ON BAD DATA
A group of 40 economists and law professors from around the country sent a letter to congressional leaders on March 10 expressing concerns that “many flawed, unreliable, or incomplete studies” are being used to promote changes in U.S. patent law. They said that as Congress considers legislation to address abusive patent litigation, “it is imperative that your decisions be informed by reliable data that accurately reflect the real-world performance of the U.S. patent system.”

The group noted, for example, that patent “trolls” do not bring the majority of patent lawsuits and that patent infringement filings were down in 2014. The claim that patent trolls cost U.S. businesses $29 billion a year in direct costs “has been roundly criticized,” they said. The letter added:

“We are not opposed to sensible, targeted reforms that consider the costs created by both plaintiffs and defendants in patent litigation. Yet, tinkering with the engine of innovation- the U.S. patent system-on the basis of flawed and incomplete evidence threatens to impede this country’s economic growth. Many of the wide-ranging changes to the patent system currently under consideration by Congress raise serious concerns in this regard.”

Read More:
Economists, Law Professors Send Letter Regarding Patent Reform (pdf)


OBAMA PROPOSES STUDENT AID BILL OF RIGHTS

President Obama on March 10 signed what he called a “Student Aid Bill of Rights” that he said would help students deal with the growing burden of college loans.

With the memorandum, Mr. Obama directed federal agencies to take steps to make it easier for college students to finance their education, pay back their loans and avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders.

“We can and should do much more to give students affordable ways to meet their responsibilities and repay their loans,” Mr. Obama wrote in the executive order. “Now is the time for stronger protections.”

Read More:
Obama Signs “Student Aid Bill of Rights” to Help Protect Borrowers (NY Times)
White House Fact Sheet: Student Aid Bill of Rights (WhiteHouse.gov)


HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE TO HOLD HEARING ON STRENGTHENING HIGHER EDUCATION
On Tuesday, March 17 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), will hold a hearing, “Strengthening America’s Higher Education System,” to discuss ways to improve higher education policies for students, families, and taxpayers.

According to the subcommittee’s media advisory, “America’s higher education system has not kept pace with the evolving needs of students and the workforce. Over the last decade, tuition prices have soared, graduation rates have plateaued, and federal policies have stymied innovation. The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act presents an opportunity for policymakers to strengthen the current system.”

Tuesday’s hearing will provide members an opportunity to explore ways to translate principles outlined in 2014 to guide the reauthorization process – including simplifying and improving student aid and ensuring strong accountability while limiting the federal role – into meaningful legislative reforms.

Read More:
2014 Principles for Strengthening America’s Higher Education System (edworkforce.house.gov)
Subcommittee’s Media Advisory (edworkforce.house.gov)

 

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT CONSIDERS SECOND COLLEGE-RATINGS SYSTEM
The Education Department, under continued fire over its planned college-rating system, is considering creating two systems, an agency official said at a policy briefing on Monday.The first ratings system would be geared toward consumers and be based on raw outcomes metrics. The second would be geared toward policy makers and researchers, and would rely on metrics adjusted for student and institutional characteristics, the official told attendees at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual policy briefing. Only the second system would be used to measure accountability.Read More:
Education Department Considers Not One but Two College-Ratings Systems (Chronicle of Higher Ed)
STUDENT AID ALLIANCE URGES APPROPRIATIONS LEADERS TO RESTORE STUDENT AID
The Student Aid Alliance, co-chaired by ACE’s Molly Corbett Broad and NAICU’s David Warren, sent a letter last week to House and Senate appropriations leaders requesting that, regarding FY16 appropriations considerations, they “make sensible choices to fund the student financial aid programs under your jurisdiction. These programs are critical to ensuring that students can afford to access higher education, and have been repeatedly cut in preceding years.”

For specific funding requests, see link to letter below.