Immediately prior to leaving for its annual August recess, the Senate passed bipartisan infrastructure legislation and an FY 2022 budget resolution that sets the stage for a much larger bill to enact parts of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan (AJP) and American Families Plan (AFP), including community college priorities such as tuition-free community college, campus infrastructure, workforce development funding, college success grants, tax treatment of Pell grants and more.
The budget resolution itself does not answer any questions about what proposals are in and out. It merely sets spending parameters to guide the drafting of more detailed legislation. The budget contains “reconciliation instructions” that direct various committees to draft legislation that adds up to a certain amount to the budget deficit over a 10-year period. Those committee bills will then be combined into one large reconciliation bill that may spend up to $3.5 trillion over the next decade.
If the bill meets certain requirements, Democrats may pass it with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes typically required to pass major legislation.
HELP Committee’s work
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has been instructed to report legislation that adds up to $726 billion to the deficit. This means that spending increases and cuts, as well as any revenue increases, must net out to $726 billion or less in the HELP bill.
Though the committees have a lot of discretion to decide how to allocate the resources they have been given, Senate leadership did not arrive at the reconciliation instructions blindly. There are certainly “numbers behind the numbers.” While those have not been publicly disclosed, Senate leadership did issue a summary of the budget resolution that may shed some light on their priorities.
For each committee that received a reconciliation instruction, the summary lists several proposals that are meant to be addressed in the legislation. The HELP Committee’s instructions include all the community college priorities mentioned above (though infrastructure is only referred to broadly as “school infrastructure”), as well as Pell Grant increases and additional investments in minority-serving institutions.
A lot to cover
While it is good to see our priorities included in these bulleted lists, we still do not know whether these will all be included at the end of the day and to what extent. $3.5 trillion may be a huge number, but it is not enough to fund everything in the AJP and AFP at the amounts proposed, plus other items like Medicare expansion that senators have added to the mix.
There are indications that senators will try to fund as many of the proposals as possible, albeit at lower levels than proposed. This approach may work better for some programs than others, however. It’s also likely that some elements of the AJP and AFP won’t be funded at all.
Senate Democrats are currently writing the legislation that answers these questions. Beyond the complexities of simply drafting the legislation to comply with the reconciliation rules, many challenges lie ahead. For starters, the legislation must be supported by every Democratic senator, and two of them (Sens. Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema) have already expressed reservations about spending $3.5 trillion, so the price tag may decrease.
Even if the bill makes it through the Senate, House Democrats must also pass it with their own razor-thin majority, which will require reconciling the different priorities held by progressive and moderate members of their caucus.
The American Association of Community Colleges again urges its members to contact their members of Congress to voice support for our priorities. Their fate is likely to be decided in the next few weeks.