With Outstanding Policy Differences Unabated, Negotiators Try to Agree on Timeline for Latest Aid Package

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

Since last week’s unveiling of Senate Republicans’ counter proposal to House Democrats' coronavirus relief package, few policy differences have been resolved, but negotiators appear to be coming to a consensus on a timeline as Congress continues to watch its August recess wane. 

While the self-imposed timeline does not force negotiators to come to an agreement, it offers a framework into how talks might develop in the coming days and whether additional aid will be agreed to before the end of August, or instead begin to bleed into September when Congress will be forced to confront the annual fiscal deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

“We’re not at the point of being close to a deal,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters on Tuesday. “We did try to agree to set a timeline that we’re going to try to reach an overall agreement, if we can’t get one, by the end of this week, so that legislation could then pass next week.”

While there are a number of significant policy riders unrelated to higher education that are stalling negotiations, neither party has come to an agreement on topline funding numbers for aid related education programs. Under the Democrats’ HEROES Act, $37 billion would be provided to higher education institutions, while the HEALS Act, proposed by Republicans, would direct $29 billion.

Talks between the negotiating parties remain fluid, with each side trying to leverage the other into accepting their opening positions. But with this continued stalemate, the various parties involved are trying to shake up the process. The White House, for example, has floated making executive orders on a number of sticking points, though it is unclear whether it would have the legal authority to implement those actions.

President Donald Trump also said that he would look into extending the deferral period and waived interest on federal student loan repayments. When the administration declared a national emergency back in March, it implemented a short-term loan deferment for at least 60 days, which was then extended to September 30 when Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

As pressure increases, a number of senators could make unanimous consent requests on stand-alone proposals aiming to address specific sectors.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has previously pledged to make this package the final aid measure, and while that might hold true in the short-term with November’s presidential election rapidly approaching, the dynamics could change depending on the results, along with the ongoing pandemic’s uncertain long-term impacts.

Since Congress has not completed its annual appropriations process — the Senate has yet to unveil a single proposal — the government will also have to avert a fiscal cliff before the end of September and in doing so could tack budget proposals into coronavirus aid should these negotiations bleed into the coming weeks.

 

Publication Date: 8/6/2020


David S | 8/6/2020 9:14:48 AM

I am going to amplify NASFAA's encouragement for my colleagues to contact their Senators and their member of Congress to support funding for students and for institutions of higher ed. Yes, lots of people and entities need money right now. But the United States is the wealthiest country in the world...wealthy enough that the majority party in the Senate unhesitatingly passed a tax cut of well over a trillion dollars not that long ago. Do not accept "the nation doesn't have the money" or "we're trying to reduce the deficit" as an argument against funding your students. The money is there; we need to make sure the will is there too.

And don't sit this one out just because you know that your representatives in DC already agree with you. The more they hear about an issue, the more they know it matters to voters. Amplify it. In fact, make like Spinal Tap and turn the amps up to 11.

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