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Congress on the Move as the Clock Winds Down

US Capitol with colored sky in backgroundThis blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.  

Congress Checks Another Item Off The “Must-Do” List

Last week lawmakers in Congress rallied to unite behind a deal that keeps the government funded at its current levels through February 18 __a Continuing Resolution (CR).This is the first in a series of “must-do” tasks before the New Year. The temporary patch keeps the government open, but it could result in federal agencies delaying grant competitions and disbursement of funds.

After checking the CR off of their list, Congress shifted gears to face the next items on the “must-do” list—raising the debt limit and passage of The National Defense Authorization Act. The nation’s current debt limit will be reached by December 15 and without congressional action, the government would not be able to meet its financial obligations. In recent weeks, Republicans vowed not to help Democrats raise the debt limit. In an unprecedented and contorted legislative move, Republicans did agree to help—sort of. They supported passage of an exception to the rule that requires a two thirds majority vote for passage in the Senate and, for this one time only, allows a simple majority vote (which means Democrats only) to adopt the provision. So Republicans supported the change of the rule, but will oppose the actual bill that raises the debt ceiling. The final votes will take place next week. Perhaps this is the 2021 version of bipartisanship.

The National Defense Authorization Act, the annual must-pass legislation that sets the policy agenda and authorizes almost $770 billion in funding for the Department of Defense, passed in the House on Tuesday night. The bill passed with a final vote of 363-70, with 169 Democrats and 194 Republicans voting for the bill, while 51 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-NY) was the only member to not vote. The FY22 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $768.1 billion in defense spending, nearly $25 billion more than requested by President Biden. If the appropriations bill ultimately matches the authorization bill we can expect to see limits on all non-defense discretionary funds—including education funding.

Still on the list of “to-do” list for the Senate is passage of the Build Back Better Act, or the reconciliation bill. Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) has vowed that he will bring this up for a vote before the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office and the Parliamentarian are reviewing portions of the bill now and will render their determinations shortly.  With two weeks left to go, and little else on the agenda, the likelihood of Senate passage before the end of the year is high.  What is unclear is what provisions will make it into the final bill.  

The Push to Pause Student Loan Repayment

This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to further extend the student loan payment pause. The pause on payments has been in effect since the federal government under former President Trump took emergency action to freeze payments in March of 2020. The group of lawmakers said the administration should continue the freeze on student loans “until the economy reaches pre-pandemic employment levels.” A recent analysis by the Roosevelt Institute suggests that about 18 million families will have to collectively pay more than $85 billion next year if student loan payments restart as scheduled. Without further executive action, borrowers are set to restart their student loan payments on February 1.

Senate Confirms Sandra Bruce as Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education

Last week, the Senate confirmed Sandra Bruce as the Education Department’s next Inspector General. Bruce joined the Department of Education in 2014 as a Deputy Inspector General and has been leading the office since 2018 when former Inspector General Kathleen Tighe retired. In a statement Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona praised the confirmation of Sandra Bruce:

“The U.S. Department of Education has long benefited from Sandra Bruce’s integrity and years of experience as a leader in the federal government, and I am thrilled that she has been confirmed to serve as the agency’s inspector general.” “Sandra will be an asset in the continued promotion of efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in all Department programs and resources. I look forward to her continued work to advance our mission in service of students, educators, and families across the country.”

New Resources

  • National Association of Secondary School Principals released results from a nationally representative survey of principals that highlights retention risks due to lingering effects of the pandemic. Nearly 4 out of 10 principals report plans to leave the profession within the next three years.

On a personal note, I was very moved this morning in watching the funeral of Sen. Robert Dole, who was a big presence during my time working in the Senate. His leadership in shepherding the Americans with Disabilities Act through was key to its final passage, and a time when I had the privilege of playing a small supporting role.  This article in the New York Times is an accurate reflection of his work on the law.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant