Washington Watch: It’s crunch time in Washington

Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which this year released the PROSPER Act, a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. (Photo: House Education and the Workforce Committee)

Congress is under intense pressure — on taxes, funding and DACA — as the first legislative session of the 115th Congress turns into its final month, while, after years of deliberation, legislative action on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) is about to get underway in the House of Representatives. Below is an update on those major efforts that will affect community colleges.

Hurtful tax reform bills

The full Senate has begun work on its version of tax reform, while the House approved its version last week. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) does not support either bill.

The House bill is particularly challenging on a variety of higher education student financing provisions: it eliminates the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLC); Section 127 of the IRS Code, which allows students to receive employer provided education assistance tax-free; and the student loan interest deduction. Both bills would hurt colleges by sharply reducing incentives for charitable giving, and limiting the ability of state and local governments to raise revenues. All AACC members are urged to take action on the issue as soon as possible.

No movement on DACA

Almost three months after President Trump announced that the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would expire on March 5 absent congressional intervention, there’s been no concrete action on this issue. Backroom negotiations on legislative solutions — largely among Republicans — continue, but, unsurprisingly, they have become entangled with immigration enforcement issues as well as different approaches to the “Dreamers” population itself. AACC continues to work aggressively to encourage congressional action to secure the future of individuals currently covered by DACA, and encourages you to do the same.

Uncertainty over funding

Once again, Congress has failed to enact funding bills by the start of the fiscal year (FY). The current FY 2018 continuing resolution (CR) funds the government through December 8. It now appears that one or more short-term funding vehicles may be used to keep the government operating into the new year. This scenario rests on the possibility of at least some Democratic votes, which in turn hinges on compromises over spending levels and possibly DACA. Currently, the possibility of a government shutdown cannot be ruled out. Whenever the FY 2018 funding process is resolved, the issue of a potential $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant (contained in the Senate’s education funding bill, but not the House’s) will be on the table.

HEA reauthorization

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), is expected to offer a comprehensive HEA reauthorization bill within the next day or two. The legislation will likely propose major changes to federal student aid and other key higher education programs. As always, AACC’s primary focus will be on what the legislation means for students, but institutional considerations will also loom large. AACC remains wary of potential new “risk-sharing” proposals, as well as possible changes to the accreditation process via federal statute. The for-profit industry is expected to largely benefit from the legislation. A markup (i.e., amendments and possible passage) of this legislation could occur within one week or less of its introduction. Stay tuned for more information.

Washington Watch updates congressional and federal agency activities and AACC advocacy efforts.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.