Washington Watch: Looking ahead, whether it’s Biden or Trump

Photo: White House/Pete Sousa

The recent national elections will obviously have substantial implications for the community college agenda in Washington. However, the many unknowns of the new political balance make reliable predictions hazardous. 

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) will continue to advance its basic policy priorities regardless of the final outcomes. They include financial support for students and institutions as they respond to the pandemic. The election perhaps makes it likelier that that legislation will not be enacted until 2021, but passage this year still seems possible.  

Also, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Tuesday stated his goal of enacting year-long fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills before the Senate adjourns for the year. (The current “continuing resolution” runs through December 11.) Full-year funding would clear the way for work on FY 2022 funding legislation early next year, rather than having to enact for the remainder of FY 2021.

However, if Joe Biden wins the presidency, his party may wish to wait until he assumes office before agreeing to final FY 2021 spending levels, on the hopes that they can get a more favorable deal at that time.

AACC has advanced a detailed agenda for the presidential campaigns. This has guided AACC’s positions on a variety of proposals, and will continue to do so throughout the upcoming presidential transition, regardless of who takes office. The proposals focused on established programs, like Pell grants and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, as well as new concepts, such as a federal-state partnership. Also, AACC and the Association of Community College Trustees will soon release their joint legislative agenda for the next (117th) Congress.

Who will chair education committees?

One important political note is the re-election of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). If Republicans control the Senate next year, as now seems likely, Collins has been rumored to possibly serve as chair of the key Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, replacing Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who is not seeking re-election. (Other potential candidates are Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky.) Collins has been a strong community college supporter in her long career in Congress. 

In the House, Rep. Bobby Scott (R-Virginia), another strong community college supporter, is expected to remain chair of the Education and Labor Committee.

Education and voting patterns

In the 2016 election, much attention was given to the relationship between educational attainment and voting patterns, particularly for non-college-educated Whites, who voted in strong numbers for President Trump. Exit poll results from Tuesday’s elections reflected similar dynamics. Those who never attended college supported Trump by a 51% to 48% margin. Those with an associate degree supported Trump as well, 49% to 48%.  

Alternatively, those with a bachelor’s degree favored Biden by a 51% to 46% margin, and those with an advanced degree backed Biden by a 62% to 36% margin. Also, in Tuesday’s election, White male non-college graduates favored Trump by a margin of 67% to 30%.

AACC will continue to keep its members informed election-related developments that affect community colleges.

About the Author

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