Higher Ed Bill Competing With Other Priorities for Floor Time

By Emily Wilkins

The comprehensive House higher education bill will soon be ready to come to the floor, but lawmakers on the education panel say they’re unsure when, as their handiwork must compete with a bevy of other legislative priorities.

The bill (H.R. 4508) would streamline the federal student loan program, reduce regulations on colleges and offer federal student aid for programs offering a license or certificate rather than a degree. The House Education and the Workforce committee approved the legislation along party lines in December.

Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) is taking steps to ready the bill for the floor. The committee recently filed its report on the bill, and the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would reduce direct spending $14.6 billion in the next decade—two items that need to be in place before the bill could come to the floor. However, Foxx has declined to provide an estimate of when the bill might be voted on by the House.

Other lawmakers on the committee acknowledged the House has a packed agenda for the next several months

Floor Competition

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), a member of both the higher education subcommittee and the agriculture committee, said he didn’t know when the higher education bill would come to the floor, but the farm bill is expected to move within the quarter.

“I think the chairwoman would like to get it to the floor as soon as possible,” Thompson said referring to Foxx. “But a lot has to do with competing for floor time.”

Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) who also sits on the higher education subcommittee, said the House had several things to accomplish in the next month, including immigration and infrastructure overhauls. In addition, the House is scheduled to be out of session in the Feb. 18 week.

“I haven’t heard any timing yet,” he said, adding it would be a “fair guess” that the bill wouldn’t get a vote before the end of February.

The packed agenda makes it difficult for the higher education bill, otherwise known as the PROSPER Act, to get a vote anytime soon said Alison Griffin, a former committee staffer and current senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors, a consulting firm.

“Higher education reform needs to be a priority for Speaker Ryan and House leadership in order to be woven into an already jam-packed Congressional calendar,” she said. “I have a hard time believing (we) will see House passage of the PROSPER Act before the end of the month.”

Senate Progress

On the other side of the Capitol, the heads of the Senate’s education committee put out a call Feb. 13 for public comments on what the Senate higher education bill should look like. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee has held five hearings on the reauthorization since November. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he expects the committee to produce a bill by early spring.

However Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee, told Bloomberg Government Feb. 13 that having a bill ready so soon “is going to take a lot of work.” While many of the hearings have focused on student aid and access, Murray has insisted any higher education update also needs to address discrimination and sexual assault on college campuses.

“We’ve been through our hearings,” she said. “I’ve been very clear we need a broad bill.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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