DC Digest – May 17, 2013

In Today’s Issue: 

  • Higher Education Community Submits Views on Student Loan Interest Rate
  • Obama Student Loan Policy Reaping $51 Billion Profit
  • Immigration Reform: Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Amendments Affecting Higher Education
  • Obama Names Duke Alum Werfel (MPP ’97) Acting IRS Chief
  • Legislators Express Support for Energy Research and Innovation
  • GOP Looks at Big Cuts for Labor, Education, HHS
  • Legislators Introduce Legislation Calling for Federal “Unit Record” Database
  • NSB Extends Deadlines for Responses on Research Administrative Burden


Members of the higher education community submitted a letter this week to leaders of the House Education and the Workforce Committee thanking them for introducing the Smarter Solutions for Students Act (H.R. 1911).  The bill would prevent the interest rate on subsidized student loans from automatically rising back to 6.8 percent on July 1.

The full committee approved the legislation on Thursday, despite strong opposition from Democrats on the committee, who argued for a bill that would keep interest rates at their current levels for the next two years, as Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

The higher education community expressed support for the bill’s inclusion of a market interest rate tied to economic conditions, with an overall cap to limit risk to student borrowers, as well as the fact that the bill would not eliminate or reduce existing benefits, such as the in-school interest exemption.  However, the letter raised the concern that graduate students might face a disproportionate increase in costs under the proposal.

In the Senate, Democrats introduced an alternative bill, the Student Loan Affordability Act of 2013, which would maintain the student loan interest rate at 3.4 percent for two years using non-education related offsets.

Read More:
Letter to the House Committee on Education and Workforce (pdf)
Press Release regarding Student Loan Affordability Act of 2013 (help.senate.gov)
So Much for Consensus (Inside Higher Ed)

The Obama administration is forecast to turn a record $51 billion profit this year from student loan borrowers, a sum greater than the earnings of the nation’s most profitable companies and roughly equal to the combined net income of the four largest U.S. banks by assets.

Figures made public Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office show that the nonpartisan agency increased its 2013 fiscal year profit forecast for the Department of Education by 43 percent to $50.6 billion from its February estimate of $35.5 billion.

Read More:
Obama Student Loan Policy Reaping $51 Billion Profit (Huffington Post)


This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee debated and voted on several amendments to the comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) that are of interest to higher education.

Amendments approved as of Wednesday (mark-ups continued on 5/16):

  • Hatch Amendment #9: This amendment was offered by Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Chris Coons (D-DE), three of the original cosponsors of the I-Squared bill, which addresses immigration issues for well-educated foreign nationals.  The amendment increases the H-1B labor certification fee from $500 to $1,000 in order to fund scholarships for low-income students and programs at minority-serving institutions.  It was adopted by voice vote.  The higher education community will continue to press for an exemption from the fee.
  • Grassley Amendment #58: This amendment by Charles Grassley (R-IA) requires that employment opportunities posted on the Department of Labor website include additional information.  Job listings would be required to include the title and description of the position, the location where the work would be performed, and the name of the employer. The amendment passed by voice vote.
  • Klobuchar Amendment #3: This amendment offered by Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) allows for the use of videoconferencing technologies to conduct in-person visa interviews.  The amendment passed by voice vote.
  • Sessions Amendment #13: The original amendment offered by Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would have required that any foreign national deemed a potential threat to U.S. national security submit to an interview with a consular officer when applying for a visa.  During debate on the amendment, Charles Schumer (D-NY) offered a second-degree amendment that would give Department of State consular officers access to all terrorist databases and records, in order to determine if an applicant is a threat to national security.  The modified amendment passed by a vote of 10-8.
  • Grassley Amendment #69: This amendment addresses concerns about fraudulent activities of sham universities, including their violation of the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and their failure to comply with reporting requirements under the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.  The amendment would put in place new anti-fraud provisions for student visas and require that designated school officials at each institution undergo background checks every three years.  Senator Schumer offered a second degree amendment which made minor changes to the original amendment.  The modified amendment passed by voice vote.
  • Grassley Amendment #77: This amendment requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to transmit student visa data from the SEVP to U.S. Customs and Border Protection within 120 days after enactment of the bill.  Failure to transmit this information would result in the suspension of the issuance of F and M visas.  Despite concerns raised by some members of the committee, the amendment passed by voice vote.


Duke University Office of Federal Relations remains engaged in advocating for reform that will be most favorable for higher education interests and will continue to provide updates as the Senate Judiciary Committee continues consideration of the legislation.
President Obama appointed Daniel I. Werfel, the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, to be the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, the White House announced Thursday.

Mr. Werfel, who manages much of the day-to-day operations at the budget office, will replace Steven Miller, who was fired this week as the agency’s interim director in the scandal over its targeting of conservative groups.

Read More:
Obama Names New Acting I.R.S. Chief (New York Times)

As the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations begin consideration of bills that would fund the government for FY14, legislators that are not sitting members of the Committee have the opportunity to voice their support for programs and initiatives by submitting written letters.

This week saw three groups of legislators express support for strong funding for Department of Energy research and innovation programs.

–A bipartisan group of 62 House Members, led by Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), sent a letter to leaders of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee urging “robust and sustained funding for the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the critical research, unique scientific facilities, and expert personnel that it supports.”

–A bipartisan group of 22 Senators, led by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), sent a similar letter to leaders of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.  Their letter said that because the DOE Office of Science is “the nation’s principal sponsor of research in the physical sciences,” providing it robust funding in FY14 “must be a priority.”

–A second group of 12 Senators, all Democrats and led by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), sent a letter to Senate appropriators urging priority support for what they termed “the three complementary approaches to tackle the clean energy and energy security problems before us.”  These are the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the Energy Innovation Hubs, and the Energy Frontier Research Centers.

Read More:
Letters from Legislators Urging Support for Energy Research and Innovation (AAU)


House Republicans late Thursday began circulating new spending targets for appropriations bills for the coming year with Labor, Education and Health and Human Services facing a nearly 20 percent reduction on top of the cuts already made in the March 1 sequestration order.

Discretionary spending for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services would be capped at $121.8 billion — or about $28 billion below the best available estimates for post-sequestration appropriations.

Stepping back just a few years, that would be $42 billion — or 26 percent below what was enacted in fiscal 2010, the last year that Democrats and Obama controlled the appropriations process.

Read more: 
GOP Looks at Big Cuts for Labor, Education, HHS (politico)


Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fl) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have re-introduced legislation known as the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which would require colleges to collect and make public information about students’ salaries by major and program; graduation and remediation rates; success rates for students who receive a Pell Grant or veterans’ benefits; and other data points not currently collected and compiled in such detail.

Similar legislation was introduced in the 112th Congress, but the version introduced this week calls for a database administered through the Department of Education that could track students through college and into the work force. In previous proposals, the data would have been provided by states.

Read More:
An Idea Whose Time Has Come? (InsideHigherEd.com)
Why Act When You Can Ask for A(nother) Study? House Kicks the Can on Better College Data(newamerica.net)


The National Science Board (NSB) has extended to June 7 the deadline for individual investigators to submit comments on reducing the administrative workload of federally funded research. This is an extension from an earlier deadline of May 24. The NSB Task Force on Administration Burdens is seeking recommendations to aid in the development of “recommendations to ensure investigators’ administrative workload is at an appropriate level.”

Read More:
NSB Task Force Request for Information (nsf.gov)