Hearings and Budgets and Mark-Ups, Oh My!

This week the House and Senate have been preparing for their August Recess and they have successfully kept the NASFAA team busy through the process. Money has been the major topic of conversation as the House, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-H) Appropriations Subcommittee finally passed their draft fiscal year (FY) 2013 spending bill. The subcommittee waited to release their bill until after the Supreme Court Ruling on the Affordable Care Act, as health care is a major part of the bill. 

The bill was passed on Wednesday, after a subcommittee mark-up and a vote of eight to six. I had planned to attend the mark-up in person, but by 8:15 am the line was already all the way down hallway and wrapped around the corner, and the mark-up was not set to start until 10 am. The chances of getting into the hearing room were slim so I decided to cut my losses. I still hope to be able to attend the full committee mark-up, but I might have to hire some one to start waiting in line for me at 6:00 a.m. While the bill is $6.3 billion less than discretionary spending levels were last year, higher education funding was not significantly affected, making our job here at NASFAA a little easier! The bill wasn’t entirely perfect though, so watching the compromise unfold between the House and the Senate will be quite a show. However, nothing too substantial is expected until after the presidential elections. 

On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to discuss making college affordability a priority. I was able to attend the hearing and listen to the testimonies of five highly regarded members in the higher education community. Topics addressed in the hearing included increased financial aid literacy courses, a more holistic approach to award letters, applying a means test for merit aid and continued support for the federal Pell Grant Program. (For a full report, read our article on the hearing). Being able to go to a hearing in person was a really unique experience, and a lot more interesting than watching one on C-SPAN. I felt a little star-struck being in a room with so many Senators and their staff members. I was able to recognize a few of the staff members from previous meetings on the Hill with Megan McClean, NASFAA's Director of Federal Relations and Advocacy.

To finish the week, I attended a Committee for Education Funding meeting, and of course indulged myself with coffee and coffee cake. (You would think I’m 500 pounds with all of my talk about food!) The meeting summarized the House’s Labor-H bill and the HELP hearing. Sequestration was also discussed, as a hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, July 25 to discuss the impacts of these impending, automatic spending cuts on domestic programs like education. We will not be back from Chicago in time to attend the hearing, but I look forward to hearing about the discussion. 

Next stop is Chicago! I hope to see you there!

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