Penn Hill Group’s Washington Wrap-Up: May 20

Here’s a quick look at the news from last week (May 13 – May 17) in Washington.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began to mark up the immigration bill released by the Gang of 8 on May 9th, and continued the markup last week. The bill includes several education-related provisions such as the DREAM Act, STEM education funding, requirements for English language skills and education visa requirements. The Committee posted a full list of amendments, as well a list of amendments considered on each day of the markup. Of note, the Committee approved an amendment that will take money collected on fees for labor certifications and put the money toward STEM education, and specifically a new STEM Education and Training Account and allow the Department of Education to award grants to establish and administer American Dream Accounts for low income students. The markup is scheduled to resume this week (May 20th).

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the nomination of Secretary of Labor-Designate Thomas E. Perez by a party line vote of 12-10, and the nomination now goes to the full Senate. Majority Leader Reed has not announced when the full Senate will consider the Perez nomination.

Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Harkin and Majority Leader Reed introduced legislation that extends the existing subsidized student loan interest rate of 3.4% for 2 years.  The bill pays for this extension with tax related provisions.  This legislation is expected to be debated by the full Senate in the coming weeks.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee marked up two bills on Thursday, and both bills passed the Committee.

  • H.R. 1949, The Improving Postsecondary Education Data for Students Act, passed by a voice vote. The bill calls for a study on what higher education data should be collected and how it should be collected.
  • H.R. 1911, The Smarter Solutions for Students Act, passed by a vote of 24-13, with Reps. Polis (D-CO) and Yarmuth (D-KY) joining all Republican Members in voting for the bill. The bill sets establishes a variable interest rate structure based on the 10 year treasury note and saves approximately $3.7 billion over 10 years.

There were two amendments to H.R. 1911:

  • A Rep. Tierney (D-MA) amendment would set student loan interest rates at the same rate provided to banks by the Federal Reserve. The amendment failed by a near-party line vote of 14-22. Rep. Polis (D-CO) voted against the amendment.
  • A Rep. Courtney (D-CT) amendment would extend the existing 3.4% student loan interest rate for subsidized loans for two years, but did not include any offsets to pay for the costs of the amendment. The amendment failed by a party-line vote of 15-21.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will testify at a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on May 21, on the FY 2014 budget proposal for the Department of Education.

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