DC Digest – November 4, 2013

In Today’s Issue:

  • This Week in Washington
  • Higher Ed Associations Urge Budget Committee to Support Research and Education
  • Alliance Urges Budget Conference Leaders to Bolster Student Aid in FY14
  • Budget Conference Committee Gets to Work, Appropriators Ask for Top-Line Budget Number
  • How Higher Ed Fits Into New Budget Talks
  • House Members Introduce Education Tax Credit Consolidation Bill 
  • House Oversight Committee Approves GRANT Act
  • Humanities Alliance Calls for Short Videos on Value of Humanities
  • University Research Officer Highlights Concerns About Innovation Deficit in Hearing 


  • Ongoing News: A health care education campaign continues with administration officials, including the President, making appearances in the 10 cities with the highest concentrations of uninsured residents that participate in the federal marketplace. The House is in recess for the week, but proposals for the Budget and Farm Bill Conference Committees continue to emerge. The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold two closed-door hearings on the National Security Administration.
  • Workplace discrimination: This week the Senate will debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S 815), and they are expected to consider amendments addressing employees transitioning between gender identities. Some Republican Senators cite religious liberty issues as concerns with the overall bill.
  • Economic Markers: On Friday the Labor Department will release October jobs data, numbers which will continue to show the impact of the 16-day government shutdown on the economic growth. Other reports out this week are the U.S. Consumer Spending Measure (Mon.) and consumer sentiment (Fri.). President Obama will make remarks on the economy Friday in New Orleans, with exports as the intended topic.
  • The Nuclear Option: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will file cloture on two D.C. Circuit nominees, as a way to further explore the Republicans opposition to administration nominees and to see if the “nuclear option” will become necessary.
  • Supreme Court Docket: On Wednesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a challenge to a New York town’s practice of opening its town council meetings with a prayer.

Read More:
Obama to thank Dallas navigators (The Hill)
Senate back to ‘nuclear’ war over nominations (Politico)
Argument preview: Prayer’s role in government (SCOTUS blog)


A group of 34 higher ed associations sent a letter to the House and Senate budget conference committee members on November 1, urging them to eliminate the sequester and to prioritize investments in higher education and research in any plan they might draft.

The letter, led by the American Council on Education, said:

“Our nation’s leadership in innovation is eroding as our competitors emulate the model we have so successfully followed in the past. As you meet to resolve the FY14 budget, we urge you to eliminate the irresponsible policy of sequestration and reaffirm the federal commitment to higher education and research that placed the United States at the top of the global economy.”

The conference committee is responsible for returning a spending plan to both chambers by Dec. 13, an outcome of the budget deal reached in October to reopen the federal government.

Read More:
Associations Urge Budget Conferees to Eliminate Sequester, Support Research and Education (ACEnet.edu)


The Student Aid Alliance last week sent a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate budget committees urging them to repeal the budget sequester and provide the highest possible funding levels for non-defense discretionary spending in the FY14 budget agreement.  The goal is to bolster support for federal student aid programs.

Read More:
Student Aid Alliance Letter


The major takeaway from the first public meeting last week of the House-Senate conference committee on the FY14 budget appears to be that ad hoc groups of conferees have begun meeting to develop proposals on various aspects of an agreement before the conferees next meet publicly on November 13.

Conference committee co-chairs House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) have worked to reduce expectations that the panel will reach a grand bargain that includes significant tax and entitlement reform.   The leaders’ more modest goal is to find agreement on final spending for FY14 and the means to avoid the next round of sequester cuts scheduled to kick in early next year.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), the leaders of the Senate and House appropriations committees, sent a letter to the conferees, urging them to agree to a top-line number for discretionary spending in FY14 and FY15 as their first priority. They asked conferees to reach a decision no later than December 2, but preferably before the Thanksgiving recess on November 22, so that appropriators would have more time to write a year-end omnibus spending bill before the current CR expires in January.  They did not specify a number but urged that reaching a spending number early would “allow for more thoughtful and responsible spending decisions, set the parameters for the budgetary savings that need to be reached in your Budget Conference, and build momentum for a larger budget agreement that addresses the nation’s wide range of fiscal challenges.”

Read More:
Chairman Mikulski and Chairman Rogers Call on Budget Conference to Set Appropriations Topline (appropriations.senate.gov)


As Congress resumed negotiations on the federal budget last week, higher education advocates are once again pressing lawmakers to end automatic spending cuts, which they’ve said are devastating to scientific research.

Read more:
How Higher Ed Fits Into New Budget Talks (Inside Higher Ed)


Representatives Diane Black (R-TN) and Danny Davis (D-IL) introduced legislation last week to simplify and consolidate four higher education tax benefits.  The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (not yet numbered) would consolidate the tuition deduction, the Hope Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), and the Lifetime Learning Credit into an updated, permanent AOTC.Since Reps. Black and Davis co-chaired the tax committee’s working group that was tasked with recommending reforms in higher education tax incentives, it seems likely that their bill will be considered as part of a comprehensive tax reform package that Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) is assembling.The Representatives’ joint press release said that their bill would:

  • Provide a 100-percent tax credit for the first $2,000 of eligible higher education expenses and a 25-percent tax credit for the next $2,000 of such expenses, for a maximum credit of $2,500; the first $1,500 of the credit would be refundable.
  • Allow the credit to be used to offset expenses for tuition, fees and course materials.
  • Make the credit available for up to four years of postsecondary education at qualifying four-year universities, community colleges, and trade and vocational schools.

The credit would begin to phase out for families with incomes between $86,000 and $126,000 (half those amounts for single individuals).

Duke OFR is engaged in discussions with Congressional staff on the matter and will provide relevant updates as they become available.


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on October 29 approved its reintroduced and slightly modified version of the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2013 (GRANT Act, H.R. 3316), which is intended to provide greater transparency to federal grant programs as a means of improving accountability by federal grantees.  The bill requires the posting to a central federal grants website of several categories of information including: the full grant application of a successful grantee; grant performance information; the executed award agreement; as well information about individuals who participate in federal agency peer review panels.

The reintroduced version of the GRANT Act includes some modifications to provisions that higher ed research associations identified as problematic in the first version of the bill.  But the modifications do not address several other fundamental concerns with the legislation, including the protection of intellectual property and other sensitive information the public release of which could harm the peer-review process; the nation’s economic competitiveness; and national security.

Subsequent to the committee markup, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), who introduced the bill, told Science Insider that the GRANT Act was not aimed at research agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, but at such agencies as the Departments of Education, Justice and Commerce “that do not have a transparent process in place.”  He added that the legislation was still a work in progress and that he was working with Democrats on provisions of concern.

Read More:
Oversight Committee Approves Bill to Shed Light on Taxpayer Funded Grants (Oversight.house.gov)
Bill Revising Federal Grants Process Wouldn’t Change Practices at NIH and NSF, Says Sponsor (ScienceMag.org)

The National Humanities Alliance (NHA) is asking its members to produce short videos offering first-person testimonials that bring the voices of those engaged in the humanities to a broad audience through social media. The short videos should feature students, professors, researchers, archivists, and alumni describing their work and experiences in concrete terms.

The request is a follow-up to the charge issued by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences for the humanities community to share its work with the public, demonstrating its value, and engaging elected officials.  As the videos are produced, NHA will integrate select videos into its congressional materials.

Read More:
Call for Videos Demonstrating Value of Humanities (nhalliance.org)


At a hearing convened last week by the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy, Dr. John Hemminger, Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of California, Irvine, expressed his concern that the innovation deficit—the difference between needed and actual federal investments in research and higher education—was “particularly troubling in the area of energy science and technology.”  He said it was abundantly clear that increased investments in research and education are “required for the U.S. to obtain and continue to have energy independence” and to “remain competitive on the world stage.”

Dr. Hemminger made his remarks during a hearing called to examine federal energy research priorities and the panel’s draft legislation, the Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy Act of 2013 (or EINSTEIN America Act).  The bill would reauthorize Department of Energy Office of Science programs for FY14 and FY15.

Read More:
Subcommittee on Energy Hearing – Basic Energy Research (Science.house.gov)