Senate Dems Strike Budget Agreement: What’s That Mean for Higher Ed?

Related Topics in the Ref Desk: Pell Grant

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Earlier this week Senate Democrats announced that they had come to an internal agreement on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would pave the way for enacting federal investments in programs more closely aligned with President Joe Biden’s agenda.

While the announcement contains broad commitments to a number of federal programs the drafting process could easily incorporate funding for higher education, there’s a long procedural road ahead that could make it tricky to tack on a number of these provisions.

The measure could incorporate a number of higher education priorities and could heavily borrow from Biden’s American Jobs Plan which called for $12 billion in community college infrastructure. Additional provisions that could make it into  the package are policies from the president’s American Families Plan released in April, including proposals to  provide two years of free community college as well as tuition breaks for low- and moderate-income students attending historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

There’s also the possibility of additional funding being allocated to the Pell Grant program. The administration has pledged to double the maximum Pell Grant award and as a part of the annual appropriations cycle both the president and House Democrats have included a $400 increase in discretionary funding to the maximum Pell Grant that would boost the 2022-23 maximum award to $6,895. In the American Families Plan released in April, the administration proposed an additional increase of $1,475 in mandatory funding to the maximum award. Because the reconciliation process typically makes changes in mandatory spending, the administration could  use  this package as a legislative vehicle for the $1,475 mandatory increase already proposed in the American Families Plan.

This budget resolution is key to administering the reconciliation process and differs from talks surrounding a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Reconciliation will contain policies more aligned with the agenda of congressional Democrats since this special budgetary process only requires simple majority approval in both chambers to reach the president’s desk. However, the process has limitations on what sort of policy changes can be included and is subject to procedural rules enforced by the Senate parliamentarian.

Congress previously utilized the reconciliation process to enact the most recent coronavirus relief package, which contained a number of Biden’s policy priorities, including about $40 billion in funding for higher education.

While it is not inconceivable that the bipartisan infrastructure bill could contain some of the same higher education investments outlined above, it would require buy-in from Republican Senators.

There are still a number of hurdles this framework will need to overcome in order to advance but the agreement signifies that the process can begin to move with legislators beginning the drafting and markup process.

Stay tuned to Today’s News for more developments concerning the reconciliation process.  


Publication Date: 7/15/2021

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