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Federal Relations / D.C. Office
Michael A. Waring directs the University of Michigan's Washington, D.C. Office. Located three blocks south of the Capitol, it serves as a liaison between the University and the federal government, public policy makers and national organizations to provide national leadership in matters affecting higher education and research.
The Washington, D.C. Staff directly serves University faculty, staff and students, as well as members of Congress and federal government offices and agencies.
Activities include monitoring legislation of interest to universities; facilitating congressional and administration meetings and issue briefings for UM faculty and staff; providing office space for University people on business in Washington; and serving as a clearinghouse on government activities, places, people and employment opportunities.
Congressional inquiries are handled concerning the University's academic and research activities and its views on pending legislation.
The Federal Report
Reporting about several issues being tracked by the U-M Federal Relations team:
COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM TAKES FIRST STEPS
In mid-May the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a comprehensive reform bill, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). The higher education community is generally pleased with the bill, which includes provisions for a streamlined green-card process for international students with advanced STEM degrees from U.S. institutions and an expansive version of the DREAM Act. We have a few concerns that include some proposed changes to administrative procedures for H-1B visas, and a narrow definition of STEM fields. We'll be working to address our concerns through a possible manager's amendment or other floor amendments when the full Senate considers the bill in June.
The House of Representatives has separate efforts on immigration reform. There's a bipartisan group that has agreed on reform principles for a comprehensive bill, but has not released legislation yet. And the other effort is to deal with the immigration issues in separate bills.
STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATES
The interest rate on Stafford federally subsidized student loans is scheduled to double from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1. So far, the House, Senate, Republicans, Democrats and the White House have yet to agree on a plan to prevent the doubling.
On May 23rd the House passed, on a mainly party-line vote, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act (H.R. 1911), which would base interest rates on the government's cost of borrowing, with interest rates changing from year to year but capping at 8.5%. The White House has issued a veto threat because the bill does not lock in low rates for today's students, does not include the President's income-based repayment option, and would raise money from the student loan interest rates to help reduce the deficit.
There are four Senate bills that would address the interest rate issue in various manners. Democratic leadership introduced the Student Loan Affordability Act of 2013 (S. 953) that would maintain the interest rate at 3.4% for two years in order to give Congress time to work on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which would address the overall student loan issues.
APPROPRIATIONS PROCESS MOVES FORWARD AS SEQUESTRATION CONTINUES
As Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, it will continue to wrestle with funding for FY’14 amidst two very different budgets and the ongoing sequestration.
In April, the House approved its version of the FY ’14 budget with much lower numbers than the Senate approved. The House assumed a baseline based on the current spending limit, which is $984 billion. It also proposes to cut an additional $1.1 trillion over the next ten years by reducing spending even further. The Senate, meanwhile, took its number back to the pre-sequestration limits of $1.047 billion. Thus, there is a $91 billion difference between what the House and Senate propose to spend during the upcoming fiscal year.
In May, the House Appropriations Committee then issued its 302b allocations, which determine how much each subcommittee may spend within its funding bill. This will force many subcommittees to reduce spending for FY ’14 well below current levels. Of particular interest to universities, the Labor-HHS-Education bill (which funds NIH and many federal education programs) will see an 18.6% reduction from current spending. Energy and Water (which funds energy and other sciences) will see an 11% drop, while Commerce-Justice-Science (which funds NSF, NIST and NASA) will see a more modest 0.4% reduction. Under the House allocations, only Defense (5.4%) and Military Construction/Veterans (3.4%) would see increases.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will issue its own version of 302b numbers for its subcommittees the week of June 17. Since the House and Senate will apparently not attempt to reconcile their disparate budget numbers any time soon, it appears both houses will end up with vastly different appropriations bills, likely leading this fall to yet another continuing resolution at current levels until a larger agreement can be reached. Higher education interests, including the University of Michigan, continue to urge President Obama and Congress to come up with a broad budget agreement to end the sequestration and promote a long-term strategy for dealing with the federal budget deficit.
RE-DOING COPYRIGHT LAWS FOR THE DIGITAL AGE
The House Judiciary Committee in May held its first of numerous hearings to be scheduled this year to begin discussing the need to modernize the nation’s copyright laws.
With the advent of digital technologies, some see the need for copyright rules to be better adapted to the 21st Century. Others, however, believe that recent court rulings strengthening the hand of copyright users show that the law can respond to new technology without legislation.
The first hearing featured a panel of academics that discussed a report they did in 2010 looking at the overall issue of copyright law. Additional hearings will include both copyright creators and users. The U.S. Registrar of Copyrights actually called for the review of copyright law by Congress in a report last year.
The U-M Washington office will work with campus officials involved in copyright matters to ensure that U-M’s voice is heard during this discussion.
U-M WASHINGTON OFFICE
Mike Waring, Executive Director of Federal Relations
Cindy Bank, Assistant Director, Washington Office
Kristina Ko, Director of Federal Relations for Research
Madeleine St. Denis, Government Relations Associate
499 S. Capitol Street, SW, Suite 501
Washington, DC 20003
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