Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

Federal Update for May 20, 2011 - Addendum

The House was in recess this week and will return on Monday, May 23.  No legislative program has been announced for the week.
The Senate did not meet today.   It will meet next on Monday, May 23, when it will consider S. 1038, a bill to extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act.

The difficulty of negotiating a comprehensive budget agreement was demonstrated again this week, as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) announced that he was "taking a break" from the Senate "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group of Senators who have been working for months on a long-term deficit reduction plan based on recommendations from the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission.  National Journal reports that the work of the group has been closely watched, because any deal its members achieve would likely include significant tax and entitlement changes and would "have bipartisan credibility that gives it a shot at passing both chambers."

Meanwhile, another Hill publication reports that the bipartisan group being convened by Vice President Biden—which aims to reach a shorter-term budget agreement linked to raising the debt ceiling before August—has agreed to about $150 billion in cuts but "still has a long way to go," in the words of Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).  With Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) unable to move an FY12 budget through his panel, it is reported that some
Senators increasingly are looking to the Biden group to come up with a budget plan that could win approval in both the House and Senate. The Biden plan is reportedly still focused on finding potential savings from the elimination of several subsidies, including the in-school subsidy for graduate and professional students.

Signs seem to be pointing to a relatively small increase in the debt ceiling, which would probably force another vote to increase the ceiling before the 2012 election. A deal of any kind is not considered likely until summer, close to the August 2 deadline that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has set for raising the debt ceiling.  

Senator Conrad, on May 19, announced that his committee would not mark up a budget resolution.  He asserted that committee Democrats are "very close to an agreement," but that they decided to "defer" a mark-up because of the ongoing budget negotiations.  He said that, as with past budget negotiations, the subsequent budget resolution, with reconciliation instructions, might be needed to implement an agreement.  

According to CQ Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had suggested that this would indeed be the likely process for implementing a budget agreement, since both a budget resolution and a subsequent budget reconciliation bill would require only a majority to pass the Senate, not the 60 votes effectively required to pass most legislation there.  

It should be noted that reconciliation instructions, and the following bill, could be a vehicle for reforming a number of entitlement programs, including the Pell Grant program, which is now funded partially by mandatory spending.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) issued a report on May 19 entitled "University Research Funding: The United States is Behind and Falling."  The report emphasizes the importance of university-based research to innovation and examines recent funding trends for university research in the U.S. compared to other countries.
Among its findings:
In 2008, the U.S. ranked 22nd out of 30 countries in government-funded university research and 21st in business-funded university research as a share of GDP;
From 2000 to 2008, the U.S. ranked 18th in the growth of government-funded university research, with countries such as China, Korea, and the United Kingdom significantly outperforming the U.S.;
From 2000 to 2008, the U.S. ranked 23rd in the growth of business-funded research, as it actually declined as a share of GDP.

The report concludes:
"Given the importance of university research to the U.S. innovation system, and the primary role that innovation plays in economic growth, competitiveness, and job creation, the data presented here should serve as a wakeup call for U.S. policymakers. We can no longer rest on our laurels and assume that our universities will continue to lead the world, just because they once did. The reason they led was no accident.  It had nothing to do with our weather, our geography, or our culture.  Instead, it had everything to do with the fact that after World War II, we, before any other nation, dramatically increased federal (and state) support for higher education generally and higher education research specifically."
(AAU and the UW System Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)