Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

Updates on state and federal issues relating to the UW System.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Federal Update for November 19, 2010

Congressional Calendar

The House is out of session and will return after Thanksgiving on Monday, November 29.   The Senate met today, with no roll call votes, and also will next convene on November 29.  Once Congress returns, it is likely to stay in session well into December, reports, in part because the agenda-setting meeting between President Obama and congressional leaders was postponed from November 18 to November 30.  The publication adds that Members are preparing "for partisan battles during the remainder of the lame-duck session over taxes, spending, defense, gays in the military, immigration, and nuclear arms policy."  

Lame-Duck Session Post-Thanksgiving 

As Republicans and Democrats met this week to organize themselves for the next Congress, the jockeying intensified over what should be addressed during the lame-duck session and what should be held over until the 112th Congress convenes on January 5, 2011.  At a minimum, this Congress must approve a funding package to sustain federal government operations after the short-term continuing resolution (CR) expires on December 3 (see item below).  There is a consensus that the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended in some form when they expire at the end of the year, although an agreement on how they should be extended is far from certain.  A provision which allows certain employer-provided tuition benefits to be excluded from income will expire on December 31, 2010, unless Congress acts to extend the provision.  The University of Wisconsin System supports extending this provision.

How Congress will deal with the shortfall in the Pell Grant program is also being closely watched by UW System.  If the shortfall is not addressed and/or the ARRA funds not replaced, then the maximum Pell Grant would need to be reduced (for 2011-12) to a level that would make it possible for all eligible students to receive an award; estimates range from $4,300-$4,850 (or decreases between $700 and $1,250 from 2010-11).

Congress seems likely to approve another fix on physician Medicare reimbursements; the Senate on November 18 approved an extension of current reimbursement rates through December, which will provide more time to approve a longer-term solution.  In addition, the Senate this week voted cloture on a food safety bill, and the Administration continued to apply heavy pressure on the Senate to approve the START weapons-control treaty with Russia.  

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on November 17 that he planned to bring to the floor the Defense authorization bill, which includes the controversial repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays, and a stand-alone version of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some individuals brought to this country illegally by their parents, and which the higher education associations, including the University of Wisconsin System, strongly support.  

Earlier this week, the House failed to pass a three-month extension of unemployment benefits, setting up what Congress Daily terms a "post-Thanksgiving battle of tax cuts versus benefits."  

FY2011 Appropriations

Congressional leaders have not agreed on how they will finish work on the FY11 appropriations, but it appears increasingly likely they will not approve an omnibus appropriations bill, but rather will use a continuing resolution (CR) that holds FY11 funding largely at FY10 levels.  Although Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) continues to work toward agreement on an FY11 omnibus appropriations package, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on November 18 that he would oppose such a measure, thus reducing the chances that it could pass the Senate.  

Politico reports that House Republicans want  a short-term CR that extends early into the next Congress, when they will control the House.  This would provide the opportunity for them to try to move a series of rescissions to roll back funding for many programs to their FY08 levels.  The White House is encouraging House Democrats to pass a full FY11 CR as a means of resisting further FY11 cuts.
House Republicans included a proposal in their policy document, "A Pledge to America" to cut domestic discretionary programs to their 2008 levels, exempting the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.

(AAU and the UWSA Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)