Two committees within the House of Representatives on Wednesday discussed and debated two separate pieces of legislation pertaining to the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget: the Republicans' budget resolution, a framework that is used by House appropriators and authorizing committees to guide spending decisions for the coming fiscal year, and an appropriations bill with details for education spending, both of which would affect award year 2018-19.
The proposed budget resolution is based on the House GOP budget blueprint that would reduce non-defense discretionary spending – the pot of funds that include many higher education and federal student aid programs – to $511 billion for FY 2018, and would further reduce this spending by $1.3 trillion over the next decade.
The budget resolution does not include specific program-by-program cuts. Instead, the resolution provides a narrative of policy priorities that indicate what Republicans are aiming to achieve in terms of higher education, which is simplifying and streamlining federal student aid programs.
Specifically (or as specific as the budget resolution gets), the Republicans said in their blueprint they want to "make the Pell grant program sustainable" by ensuring that aid goes to the neediest students, those who complete their programs in a timely manner, and ensuring the financial stability of the program. The blueprint also argues that the federal student loan program "crowds out private and other lenders that may have better products to meet borrowers' needs." The assumption in the budget proposal is that reforms to the federal student loan program will help reduce costs of the entire budget and help balance the budget at the end of 10 years.
The appropriations bill, on the other hand, is moving separately – and out of order from the traditional budgeting and appropriations process – and would reduce funding for programs in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and other Related Agencies portion of the budget by $8 billion. This bill would reduce funding for the Department of Education (ED) by $2.4 billion, and cut $3.3 billion from the Pell Grant reserve fund.
What Could Come From a Budget Resolution?
Passing a budget resolution in the House allows the Senate to then use the resolution as a vehicle to undergo "budget reconciliation." This process has become a parliamentary tool to allow the Senate to get around the 60-vote threshold needed to pass legislation by instead requiring only a simple majority to pass the attached legislation. Republicans are planning to use the House FY 2018 budget resolution to pass comprehensive tax reform legislation. The FY 2017 budget resolution was intended to be used as the vehicle to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, which Congress has as yet been unable to achieve.
To pay for the cost of changes in the tax code, the House FY 2018 budget resolution includes a directive to the House Education and the Workforce Committee to find $20 billion in savings over 10 years. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget outlined several ways the committee could achieve those savings, including increasing origination fees for undergraduates from 1 percent to 4 percent, eliminating subsidized loans, eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, and consolidating the income-driven repayment plans.
A number of changes to the student aid programs have occurred through the budget reconciliation process in years past. Most notably, in 2010, Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) which mandated the switch from FFELP to Direct Loans and indexed the Pell Grant maximum award to inflation
Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid Largely Focus of Budget Hearing
The House Budget Committee's hearing on Wednesday largely focused on the budget proposal cuts to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, increases to defense spending, and proposed changes to the tax code. Republicans on the committee emphasized their desire to see a balanced budget within the next decade, arguing that the proposed cuts to mandatory and discretionary spending are necessary to help the United States avoid a financial collapse in the future.
Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN) said that the need to balance the federal budget "requires us to make tough choices, but the consequences of inaction far outweigh any political risks."
However, committee Democrats were unanimous in their opposition to the proposal, arguing that the cuts included in it would impact the most vulnerable Americans and would be unfair to the working class. Ranking Member John Yarmuth (D-KY) said the proposal "displays total indifference" for the American people, and encouraged his colleagues to instead invest funding in education, job training, and health care, among other priorities.
Though there were few references to the proposed cuts to higher education programs, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) argued in her remarks that expanding investments in education programs should be a top priority for Congress. "It is our responsibility to ensure that every child in the United States have access to a world class education, no matter where they live or how much money their family makes," DelBene said.
The committee voted along party lines 22-14 to send the bill for consideration on the House floor.
Republicans Shoot Down Several Amendments in Appropriations Markup
During the Appropriations Committee markup, which stretched more than eight hours on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers introduced several amendments, many of which focused on health and human services programs relating to issues like family planning, women's health, and research.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced one of the only amendments related to higher education, which sought to use the Pell Grant reserve rescission to increase the maximum award for the 2018-19 award year to $6,055, an increase of $135. As it stands currently, the cut from the reserve fund will not be redirected back into the Pell Grant program.
"These are students who really, really do need this money," Pocan said.
However, Pocan's amendment – along with the vast majority of amendments proposed during the hearing – was rejected on party lines.
The committee voted along party lines 30-22 to send the bill for consideration on the House floor.
Publication Date: 7/20/2017