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The Higher Education Act Reauthorization is still on hold while Congress deals with issues like health care and confirmation hearings for members of administrative agencies. While health care may be under discussion in the Senate after passing the House, little progress has been made to staff the Department of Education. In fact, to date, the Administration has not made a single request for a Senate appointment at the Department of Education other than Secretary DeVos. All other positions that are Senate confirmable have either remained vacant or are operating with an “acting” administrator.
However, there has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about the higher education impact of President Trump’s prosed FY2018 budget that was introduced in mid-May. The Budget, touted by the Administration as the “Taxpayer First” budget, is a good indication of where the President’s priorities fall. In the words of the Administration, “President Trump's first proposed budget shows respect for the people who pay the bills.” Overall, the budget calls for large cuts to safety net programs and domestic spending, which includes a 13.5% cut (over $9.2 billion) to Department of Education programs, and a large increase in defense spending.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before the House Appropriations Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee that cuts to higher education were intended to “reduce the complexity of funding for college while prioritizing efforts to help make a college education affordable for low-income students.” And remain “consistent with the Department’s commitment to improve the efficiency of the federal government by eliminating or phasing out 22 programs that are duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through state, local, or private efforts.”
The most significant of these changes to the higher education community include:
Despite the stark cuts to some programs, it is important to remember that this is merely a proposal. A presidential budget is a general wish list the administration puts forward of priorities for the administrative agencies in the coming year. This document has no legal weight until it is approved by Congress. The president’s full budget recommendations will go to both the Budget and the Appropriations Committees and ultimately the full Congress. As is often said with presidential budgets, just as quickly as the president proposes a budget, the Congress disposes of that budget. Congress has the power of the purse, and ultimately, the Budget and Appropriations Committees will draft their own budget and it will look drastically different from the president’s proposal. The Appropriations Committee will begin work in earnest in the next few months to put a budget together that is palatable to a majority of members of Congress, with the goal of having it passed by the end of September. If they fail to meet that timeline, a Continuing Resolution will have to be passed to keep the federal government running for the start of the next federal fiscal year on October 1.
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