July 23, 2009
In this issue:
Currently in Washington
In the first public admission of a delay, on Wednesday Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin conceded that the Senate will not vote on a healthcare overhaul bill before the August recess. The delay comes on the heels of an intense PR campaign by Republicans to frame the healthcare proposal as rushed and risky. Some Democrats too, after the razor-thin House passage of the climate change bill, have urged Democratic leaders to slow the pace of legislative activity. Additionally, on Wednesday the House also passed pay/go legislation that requires any new tax or mandatory spending program that would add to the federal deficit to be offset, ensuring that any new legislation introduced would be deficit-neutral.
The Senate has spent the week debating the FY10 defense authorization bill after Republicans forced a one week delay in voting for the confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
(FOAs for July 13 – July 17 only. Complete listing available in the working document)
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ED Recovery Act Technical Assistance Web Conferences
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) will be conducting a series of web conferences designed to assist ED grantees and sub-grantees in managing grants awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The goal of these web conferences is to provide information and enhance communication as we all work together to spend Recovery Act funds effectively to achieve the goals of saving and creating jobs, ensuring transparency and accountability, thoughtfully investing Recovery Act funds, and improving student achievement through school improvement and reform.
The ED Recovery Act Technical Assistance Web Conferences will be held on a regular schedule and will address a broad range of topics, such as basic federal grant and fiscal management requirements (e.g., cash management, internal controls, and procurement), Recovery Act-specific topics (e.g., Recovery Act reporting and uses of Recovery Act funds), innovative projects and best practices, program-specific requirements, and fraud prevention. Presenters will include representatives from across the Department, who will respond to questions as time permits.
The topic and registration link for each web conference will be announced in advance on this website (see the "Web Conference Schedule" below). Archives of the web conferences will also be available.
Once registered, participants will receive an automatic e-mail confirmation. Participants should please retain this confirmation, as it contains important information, including linking and log-in information for the web conference and cancellation information. If unable to attend, we request that the participant please cancel his or her registration so that other individuals who wish to attend may do so.
PowerPoint slides will be available for each participant to download after he or she signs into the web conference.
The first web conference in the series will be held on Thursday, July 30th, at 1:00-2:30 PM (EST).
This web conference will be presented by the ED Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the topic will be "Fraud Prevention in Recovery Act Programs."
Then, starting on Monday, August 10th, ED will begin conducting the ED Recovery Act Technical Assistance Web Conferences every-other Monday, at 2:00-3:30 PM (EST). [Please note: This recurring schedule is subject to change]. The August 10th web conference will be presented by ED Risk Management Service (RMS), and the topic will be "Education Department Guidance and Suggestions for Completing the Recovery Act Section 1512 Quarterly Reports."
If you would like to suggest topics to be included in an upcoming ED Recovery Act Technical Assistance Web Conference, please send an email to: RMSCommunications@ed.gov.
ED welcomes everyone's participation in these web conferences, and we hope that they will provide a beneficial opportunity to share information and enhance communication.
Web Conference Schedule:
Note: The following websites may be helpful for checking on time zone differences:
http://www.worldtimeserver.com/current_time_in_US-VA.aspx and http://www.time.gov/
Fraud Prevention in Recovery Act Programs
ED-Office of Inspector General
Education Department Guidance and Suggestions for Completing the Recovery Act Section 1512 Quarterly Reports
ED-Risk Management Service
* Click on the title before the web conference to register & after the web conference to view the archive version
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Student Aid Reform
On Tuesday the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (H.R. 3221) by a vote of 30 to 17 with members voting largely along party lines. This bill will drastically change the way student aid is developed and distributed throughout the United States.
Highlights of the legislation include:
- Elimination of the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) on June 30, 2010. All colleges and universities would have to transition to the Direct Loan Program;
- Division of the Pell Grant program into mandatory and appropriated funding. The mandatory portion would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index plus 1 percent. As a result, the annual Pell Grant scholarship would be increased from $5,550 in 2010 to $6,900 in 2019;
- Funding of a College Access and Completion fund with $600 million per year from 2010 to 2014 to support institutes of higher education, states, and non-profits to improve student success, completion, and post completion employment especially with underrepresented groups. The fund would also assist states to create longitudinal data systems, common metrics and reporting systems to understand and enhance availability of information for student success, completion, and completion employment;
- Funding of Federal Direct Perkins Loans at $6 billion annually that would be distributed in the following manner: 50% through self-help need amount; 25% based on a low-tuition incentive amount; and 25% would be given out based on a graduation completion ratio;
- Investing $2.55 billion in Historically Black Colleges and University and Minority-Serving Institutions;
- Keeping interest rates low on subsidized loans by making the rate variable starting in 2012 as the rate is set to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.9 percent;
- Funding the renovation of community college facilities and supporting partnerships between community colleges, states, businesses, and job training and adult education programs;
- Streamlining the FAFSA form and reducing the number of question asked by using tax returns;
- Strengthening K-12 education by creating an Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would award competitive grants to states that put into place standards-based reforms in state’s early learning programs and supporting the renovation and modernization of schools;
- Providing loan forgiveness for members of the military who are called to served during the middle of an academic term.
Originally, the legislation would have eliminated subsidized loans for graduate students by 2015. This provision was struck out by Chairman George Miller’s (D-CA) substitute manager’s amendment.
Furthermore, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced an amendment that extends Investment of $255 million per year in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Other Minority-Serving Institutions for an additional five years which extends the end date from FY2014 to FY2019. This program prepares students in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Click here to learn more about H.R. 3221. The full House may vote on the full legislation as early as next week. It is unclear as to when the Senate will take on higher education student aid reform legislation.
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Workforce Investment Act
On July, 17, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety held a hearing on reauthorization and modernization of the Workforce Investment Act. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter and Assistant Secretary of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration Jane Oates emphasized the need for the workforce and education systems to better coordinate together. For example, they will continue to work on issues such as combining literacy and remedial education with skill training. Integrated data systems and common performance measures were a few ways suggested for Congress to better align the work of the Department of Education and Department of Labor.
The Workforce Investment Act passed Congress in 1998 to enhance and strengthen the country’s job-training system. It originally authorized funding until 2003 but continues to be funded through annual appropriations. The original bill authorized many job training programs such as Job Corps, the Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program, the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program, the Native American Program, and the Youth, Adult, and Dislocated Worker program.
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Health Care Reform
Following last week’s statement by CBO Director Elmendorf that the current proposals could actually add to the deficit instead of decrease the deficit, the House consideration of the so-called “Tri Committee bill” took center stage. While the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and Labor Committees passed the bills through committee along party lines, the House Energy and Commerce Committee hit a snag. A group of conservative Democrats called the “Blue Dogs” held up the bill late last week and into this week.
Support from the Blue Dogs is essential for ultimate House passage as there are 52 Blue Dogs in the House. The Blue Dogs’ primary concerns center around the financing of the package and the perceived lack of input in the process. On Tuesday, July 21, Blue Dog leaders met with the White House and negotiated one compromise by creating a panel to set Medicare payment rates. However, this concept (discussed below) threatens support for the bill from the hospital and physician community.
The Senate Finance Committee’s negotiations also remained stalled as the Senate considers the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also of note, Senator Orin Hatch removed himself from the committee deliberations, leaving Senators Enzi, Grassley and Snowe as the remaining Republican leaders in the negotiations.
It is unlikely that either chamber will pass a bill by the August deadline set by the President. The new goal set by most Democrats is to see passage of the Tri-Committee bill by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and markup of a bipartisan bill in the Senate Finance Committee.
- Independent Medicare Advisory Council (IMAC) – also called “Super MedPAC” – The Senate and House versions include some sort of enhanced MedPAC to examine Medicare payment rates. The White House and Blue Dogs negotiated to create IMAC which would be an independent body of five experts that would set payment rates. The President would have 30 days to approve the IMAC actions and a 2/3 majority vote of Congress would be needed to overturn the IMAC decision. This proposal has met with strong opposition from hospitals and doctors (AHA and AAMC).
- Value-index legislation and regional variations in Medicare spending – The House bill includes two provisions addressing variations in spending on medical care. One section calls for an IOM study on the correlation between healthcare spending overall, Medicare spending and geographic regions. Another provision would replace the geographic adjustment to the physician work component of the formula used to determine reimbursements under the Medicare fee schedule with a “value index.”As currently written, the bill would hold harmless those providers in regions with higher geographic payment adjustments until all of the contributing factors are better understood.
There is some discussion about removal of that hold harmless. This could significantly impact teaching hospitals which typically have higher payment adjustments due to unique demographic and workload issues. AAMC and AHA are calling for further study and research before any steps are taken to redistribute Medicare payments among providers in different geographic areas.
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FY10 Appropriations Update
The House Appropriations Committee has now voted on all appropriations bills for FY10. The House Defense Appropriations bill includes $636.3 billion in total funding to support our troops including military pay and military families. Funding is also included for medical care including $2.2 billion for wounded, ill, and injured programs and $636 million for peer-reviewed research. Money is also included for military equipment and force structure, overseas military operations ($104.2 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan), and oversight of contracting and acquisition. The bill does not provide funds for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.
The House Transportation Appropriations bill includes investment in the National Transportation Infrastructure such as highways, Amtrak, and airport safety. The bill also includes assistance to vulnerable populations by funding many different programs including Section 8 vouchers, Homeless Assistance Grants, and Housing for Elderly. Funding is also included to support rural transportation, to revitalize local communities through programs like Community Development Block Grants and HOPE IV, and to improve transportation safety.
Both of these and the House Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations bills remain to be voted on by the full House. The full Senate has only voted on its Homeland Security and Legislative Branch Appropriations bills.
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FY10 Energy and Water Appropriations Bills
The House recently approved its version of the FY10 Energy and Water appropriations bill (H.R. 3183) by a vote of 320 to 97. The measure provides $26.9 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE), $500 million less than the Senate committee-approved bill (S. 1436) and $1.5 billion less than the Administration’s FY10 request of $28.4 billion. A White House Statement on the bill expressed concern over the level of funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy ($68 million below their request) as well for the lack of support for the Energy Innovation Hubs and RE-ENERGYSE programs.
While the administration requested $280 million to initiate eight Energy Innovation Hubs, the House bill provides just $35 million in support of one energy hub, leaving the topic at the discretion of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. In the House report, the committee cited concerns of redundancy between the proposed hubs and other existing research initiatives—such as the recently awarded Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) and newly-created Advanced Research Projects Agency in Energy (ARPA-E)—as well as a lack of adequate planning and implementation details (site selection, program measurement, staffing, etc.). The Senate bill includes funding for three of the eight proposed hubs: Fuels from Sunlight (Office of Science), Energy Efficient Building Systems (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy), and Modeling and Simulation (Nuclear Energy). The committee report says that the Fuels from Sunlight and Energy Efficient Building Systems hubs should each receive $22 million, but only if the Department of Energy is able to free up the funding by supporting with Recovery Act funds an infrastructure/roads project associated with the planned expansion of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It is unclear from the committee report how much funding is being provided for the Modeling and Simulation hub.
The White House also received modest support for a new clean energy education initiative called Regaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge (RE-ENERGYSE). The House bill provides just $7 million for DOE to conduct a study to better define future energy education and workforce needs. The Senate bill provides no funding. As proposed by the Administration, this program would provide new funding to higher education to support new experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students as well as three-year fellowships for doctoral students and one-year postdoctoral opportunities in energy-related fields. The program also would grant competitive awards to universities to develop and offer a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Energy Studies, focused on clean energy.
Both chambers also ignored a request in the President’s budget to end funding for hydrogen vehicles research, instead providing $190 million in the Senate for research across various hydrogen technologies. The House version also includes $40 million in hydrogen transportation funding in the Vehicle Technologies program.
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Energy and Climate Change Legislation
Consideration of a cap-and-trade energy bill continues in the Senate as the Agriculture and Environment & Public Works committees work on their portions of the plan in advance of a floor debate tentatively scheduled for late September. Negotiations over provisions in the bill are ongoing and by some estimates, Democrats are still about 15 votes short of the 60 needed to pass the measure. Rural and Midwestern Democrats have remained wary of supporting the bill which some see as legislation that will hurt manufacturing and coal-dependent areas already struggling in a recessionary economy. Prior to House passage of the bill, a flurry of last-minute amendments providing economic incentives to specific industries and constituencies were adopted in a concerted effort by Democratic leaders to gain support from fence-sitting lawmakers. It is likely the Senate will adopt a similar strategy to bring together a 60 vote coalition.
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Last week federal officials announced an agreement to restart plans to build an experimental plan that seeks to collect greenhouse gas emissions from coal before they enter the atmosphere, becoming the first commercial-size effort in the country to test such technology. The agreement will at least temporarily resurrect the so-called FutureGen project, which the Bush administration had discontinued in 2008, citing rising cost estimates. The plant, which would be built in Mattoon, Ill., is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion. However, the Department of Energy will not make a final decision on the project until early next year.
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Recently introduced legislation
For a listing of recent legislation sponsored by members of the Texas delegation, visit the Recent Legislation page of our Web Site.
To view Roll Call votes recently passed legislation, click here: (House, Senate)
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