Government Relations Report: July 2017

The Congress has recessed for the July 4th holiday. It left town without having completed work on health care, far behind schedule on any tax reform proposal, and months late on the FY 2018 appropriations process.
 
Nobody in Washington knows how the health care issue will be resolved, and there is a growing feeling that tax reform will be every bit as difficult to accomplish. We do know that Congress must complete work on annual appropriations so the government can continue to operate.
 
Appropriations
There were important developments in the appropriations world. It now looks likely that the House budget committee will delay mark up of a budget resolution for FY 2018 because some members of the Republican majority have balked at proposals to scale back non-defense spending--- discretionary and entitlements --- as the president had proposed in his budget. The House leadership is proceeding with a topline for non-defense discretionary level that is $5 billion below the FY 2018 sequester cap, which is about $8 billion below the FY 2017 enacted level. In a sign that the votes are not there to support such a proposal, the so-called "Tuesday Group" of more moderate Republicans has come out in opposition to the budget plan and called for an increase in the non-defense discretionary cap level. 
 
Representative Charles Dent (R-PA) has sent a letter to Speaker Ryan (R-WI) calling for an increase in the caps. According to a report in Politico, the letter stresses the need for bipartisan negotiations "to reach an agreement that sets spending levels for, at least, [FY] 2018." 
 
The decision by the House leadership to mark up bills based on the sequester cap means, in effect, that the president's proposed $54 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts has been rejected. It also means that the annual appropriations process will do its work with less money to spend this year than last. 
 
However, rejecting the president's budget proposal does not mean that all is well. Given the calendar, most Congress watchers believe that it is impossible for the appropriators to present all of their bills to the full Congress for votes. It is also possible that because of the tight budget caps and how available funds are allocated, bills that are marked up later in the year will be so unpopular that they cannot pass.
 
This has led to calls for a new budget deal that will raise the caps on both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. In addition to the Dent letter, the Democratic leadership in the Senate wrote majority leader McConnell and appropriations committee chair Cochran on June 26, "we believe that a bipartisan and bicameral agreement is needed to replace the irresponsible post-sequestration limits on defense and non-defense discretionary spending..."
 
The two most likely scenarios for Congress to complete FY 2018 funding this fall are either an agreement to raise the sequester caps for defense and non-defense discretionary spending or a continuing resolution because Congress will not be able to agree on bills at the current levels.  
 
It is possible that a budget deal would enable the Congress to finish its appropriations work by September 30, the end of the fiscal year. Barring such an agreement, a continuing resolution of some length is inevitable.
 
It is likely that the House Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittee will mark up its FY 2018 bill when Congress returns from the July 4th recess.
 
Other Legislation
 
Perkins/CTE Reauthorization
On June 22, the House passed Perkins/CTE reauthorization by voice vote. H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act is similar to a bill that the House overwhelmingly passed last year, but which ran into a roadblock in the Senate. The reauthorization would allow for annual increases in funding of 1.38 percent per year for the next six years. The president's budget called for cuts in Perkins/CTE of 13 percent in fiscal year 2018.
 
You may recall that last year the House passed Perkins/CTE reauthorization by a wide margin on a bipartisan basis, but the Senate never considered CTE because of a dispute over the authority of the Secretary of Education to approve state plans. Those differences of opinion remain unresolved.
 
On June 28, the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing titled "Exploring Opportunities to Strengthen Education research While Protecting Student Privacy" to discuss the effectiveness of the current laws governing education research and student privacy protection.
 
In 2014, the Senate passed a bill reauthorizing the Education Sciences Reform Act, but the bill died in the House over concerns about whether research intruded on students' right to privacy. There has been no action in the last several years. A press release from subcommittee chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) said that "The House Committee on Education and the Workforce will continue to explore how Congress can strengthen our student privacy laws while also looking for new ways to utilize education research to create a better learning environment for students."
 
Supporters of adult education worked with members of Congress to successfully include language that made explicit the need to conduct research in successful adult education and literacy activities that result in increased numeracy and educational attainment for adult learners as well as other changes to ESRA. Since Congress did not take up the bill, that effort came to naught. Hopefully, this hearing will breathe life into ESRA and give us another opportunity.   
 
Educate & Elevate
The Congress is scheduled to be on recess between July 28 and September 5. Members will be home meeting constituents and visiting sites in their districts. This is an excellent opportunity to bring the Educate & Elevate campaign to their attention. You can find out if, when, and where your elected representatives are holding town hall meetings by going to townhallproject.com for more information. You can also review the list of Educate and Elevate webinars that are taking place here: http://educateandelevate.org/webinars/