Federal Update for March 5, 2012
Both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate are in session this week, March 5.
The Budget Control Act (BCA) approved last August set the FY13 discretionary spending level at $1.047 trillion, or $4 billion above the FY12 level. This figure was agreed to by the bipartisan leadership of both houses of Congress, but the House Budget Committee may try to approve a lower figure as part of its FY13 budget resolution.
House Republican leaders are being pressured by some conservative Members to lower the spending cap, possibly to the $1.028 trillion in last year's House budget resolution or even lower, reports CQ.com. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to release his proposed budget resolution the third week of March.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders do not plan to move an FY13 budget resolution on the Senate floor, in part because the BCA has already set a discretionary spending level for FY13. CQ.com reports that both Democratic and Republican Senate leaders favor sticking with the BCA figure.
If House leaders decide to move an FY13 budget resolution with discretionary spending below the BCA level, they could undermine the FY13 appropriations process, according to Roll Call. A lower discretionary spending total would leave appropriators "with unrealistic numbers" and "could doom any spending bills to failure on the House floor." In addition, House Appropriations Committee Democrats say they do not intend to help pass any appropriations bills based on a level below the BCA number.
The publication reports that House appropriators have set a goal of approving their FY13 funding bills by the middle of the year, with the hope of passing them before the election puts a stop to any legislative momentum. Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor on February 28 to encourage quick action on the FY13 spending bills, writes CQ.com. Senator Reid said Senate floor consideration of the FY13 appropriations bills could begin as early as April.
Last week, the House of Representatives approved legislation (H.R. 2117) that would repeal Department of Education regulations on state authorization and credit hour. Sixty-nine Democrats joined all Republicans in the 303-114 vote on the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act. The entire Wisconsin delegation supported the measure. (See letter to delegation from UW System urging approval of H.R. 2117.)
The companion bill in the Senate (S. 1297) is not expected to make progress in that chamber, reports CQ.com, because Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) "have been staunch supporters of the administration's efforts to curb the for-profit education industry." The White House issued a statement on February 27 expressing strong opposition to the bill.
H.R. 2117, introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-VA), would repeal the state authorization regulation, which significantly expands federal requirements for an institution to operate legally within a state. The rule, for example, forces institutions that offer distance education programs to meet state requirements in every state in which they have a distance education student. In response to concerns raised by the higher education community, the Department of Education announced in April 2011 that it would take a "limited enforcement approach" over the next three years on the distance learning portion of this rule.
H.R. 2117 also would repeal the new federal definition of credit hour—which institutions are concerned could open the door to federal interference in core academic decisions related to curriculum—and would prohibit the Secretary of Education from establishing a regulation about credit hour in the future.
A group of seven higher education associations sent a letter to Administration officials urging that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) either issue final regulations for Student Health Insurance Coverage (SHIC), or announce that their implementation will be delayed to the 2013-14 academic year.
The letter, sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant to the President Nancy-Ann E. DeParle, notes that the original Federal Register notice for the proposed SHIC regulations was published more than a year ago, but the final regulations have yet to be published. This delay has made it more difficult for colleges and universities to negotiate new contracts with health insurers, says the letter, and it has created uncertainty in the preparation of students' financial aid packages.
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke on February 13 announced a new pilot program for waiving interviews for Chinese visitors who travel to the U.S. frequently. The announcement was a follow-up to President Obama's January 19 executive order, "Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness."
Below are key points from Ambassador Locke's statement:
· On February 13, Mission China will launch a pilot program to streamline visa processing by permitting consular officers to waive interviews for some qualified nonimmigrant applicants worldwide who are renewing their visa within 48 months (four years) of the expiration of their previously held visa, and within the same classification as the previous visa.
In China, previous holders of B (temporary visitors for business/pleasure), C1 (transit), D (crewmembers), F (students), J (exchange visitors), M (nonacademic students), and O (visitors with extraordinary ability) visas can renew their visas if they have been expired less than 48 months (four years).
· Over the course of the year, this policy could open as many as 100,000 interview appointments for Chinese travelers applying for visas for the first time.
· Applicants who qualify for interview waiver under the new guidelines can follow existing procedures to renew their visas.
· Protection of our borders and national security remains the U.S. government's highest priority. As always, with this renewal program, some applicants who apply to renew their visa without an interview will be called in for an interview for both security and quality control reasons.
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a new brief in the ongoing case of Sherley v. Sebelius, in which the plaintiffs, two adult stem cell researchers, are opposing federal funding of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. In addition, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) has filed a new amicus brief in support of the Justice Department position. The case is currently with the U.S. Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments in the case on April 23. (Copies of both briefs are attached.)
Essentially, the government and CAMR reject the plaintiffs' continued claims that support of hESC research violates the Dickey-Wicker provision prohibiting federal funding of embryo destruction and that development of the NIH guidelines for hESC research violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
(AAU and the UW System Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)