Congress Faces Crowded Back-to-Work Schedule
Congress returns to work this month facing a challenging list of priorities that include an education funding bill and possible regulatory reform for colleges and universities.
Scheduled to return after Labor Day, the House and Senate immediately will take up the issue of fiscal 2002 appropriations, including funding for Pell Grants, college work/study, historically Black colleges and universities and other mainstays of the higher education budget. Lawmakers face a tight deadline for action, with the new fiscal year scheduled to begin Oct. 1.
Most analysts believe Congress again will have to rely on short-term spending bills, or continuing resolutions, to tide the programs over until lawmakers and the White House negotiate a broad education spending agreement. Negotiations may last through November, lobbyists said.
Congressional Republicans are expected to hold the line at a 4 percent education increase, the same level President Bush proposed earlier this year, while Democrats seek a larger increase. “Both sides are sporting for a fight,” one lobbyist said.
Another unknown is the outcome of negotiations on a K-12 reform bill. A lack of progress in these negotiations also could slow down consideration of the 2002 spending bill.
Another priority for House Republicans is reducing the number of federal regulations for colleges. A House panel received about 3,000 comments for its “Fed. Up” initiative that solicited suggestions for regulatory reform. College groups focused many of their comments on financial aid regulations as well as rules requiring detailed campus crime records.
House members and the Bush administration must devise a strategy to address the issues raised in Fed. Up. Some issues may be addressed simply through new federal regulations, while others may require specific legislation.
“We will get started (on reform) in the fall,” says Stephanie Babyak, an education department spokeswoman. Education department and Capitol Hill staffers are discussing the best ways to address regulatory reform, she says. One option is to create a broad committee of federal and college officials to negotiate regulatory changes. This “negotiated rulemaking” could address many of the issues raised by Fed. Up, Babyak says.
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