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AAU Weekly Wrap-up

June 27, 2014

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CONTENTS

BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS, AND TAX ISSUES
Ways and Means Committee Marks Up Bill to Consolidate Education Tax Benefits

OTHER CONGRESSIONAL ISSUES
House Science Committee Approves “Secret Science” Bill
--AAAS Expresses Concerns about Secret Science Bill
House, Senate Education Committee Leaders Release HEA Reauthorization Plans UPDATED
Senators Introduce TRANSFER Act to Strengthen Research Commercialization NEW


BUDGET, APPROPRIATIONS, AND TAX ISSUES

WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE MARKS UP BILL TO CONSOLIDATE EDUCATION TAX BENEFITS

By a party line vote of 22 to 13, the House Ways and Means Committee on June 25 approved legislation to consolidate four higher education tax provisions into one. The Student and Family Tax Simplification Act (H.R. 3393) would combine the Hope Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), and the tuition deduction into a single AOTC and make it permanent. The opening statement by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), lead sponsor of the bill with Rep. Danny Davis (IL), is available here.

AAU and many other higher education organizations generally support consolidating current student tax credits and making the AOTC permanent. The community appreciates the provisions in the Black-Davis bill that accomplish this and that make an important fix to the interaction between the AOTC and the Pell Grant. The Committee-approved version of the bill includes an important improvement to the bill, raising the income eligibility thresholds in the bill to current levels for the AOTC.

Unfortunately, consolidation of the tax provisions comes at the expense of graduate students who use the tuition deduction or the LLC, as well as for some low- and middle-income undergraduate students who are part-time students or take longer than four years to complete their educational programs. AAU will continue to work with the bill sponsors and the Committee to address the concerns of AAU and others in the higher education community.

OTHER CONGRESSIONAL ISSUES

HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE APPROVES “SECRET SCIENCE” BILL

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on June 24 approved the “Secret Science Reform Act of 2014” (H.R. 4012),legislation that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing or issuing regulations unless the scientific information on which they are based is “specifically identified and publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” The bill was approved on a party-line vote of 17 to13.

Chairman Smith’s (R-TX) opening statement can be viewed here. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D-TX) opening statement can be viewed here.

--AAAS EXPRESSES CONCERNS ABOUT SECRET SCIENCE BILL

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on June 23 sent the Committee a letter on behalf of the research community, including AAU, expressing concerns about H.R. 4012. The letter focuses on the issue of defining such terms as “data” and “reproducibility,” as well as on the potential for imposing additional uncompensated costs on research grant recipients if they are expected to cover the costs of sharing and archiving research results that support EPA actions. The letter reminds committee members that the Office of Science and Technology Policy has been working with federal research agencies to establish policies regarding access to data; those policies are expected to be finalized by the end of the year. AAAS suggests that the Committee consider waiting to review those policies before imposing new statutory requirements.

HOUSE, SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE LEADERS RELEASE HEA REAUTHORIZATION PLANS UPDATED

This week, leaders of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the Higher Education Act (HEA) unveiled their proposals for reauthorizing the law. Both plans are intended to make college more affordable, provide students with better information about college costs and student aid, and increase institutional accountability for student access and success.

In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) on June 25 unveiled the “Higher Education Affordability Act,” which he termed a draft discussion proposal. The plan has four main goals: “increasing college affordability, helping struggling borrowers, strengthening accountability, and improving transparency.”

Chairman Harkin is inviting interested stakeholders to submit comments about the draft bill to the Committee by Friday, August 29, using the following email address: HEAA2014@help.senate.gov.

In the House, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) on June 24 released the outline of their priorities for reauthorization, divided into four principles. These are: empowering students and families to make informed decisions; simplifying and improving student aid; promoting innovation, access, and completion; and ensuring strong accountability and a limited federal role.

On June 26, committee Republicans introduced three bills reflecting some of these priorities: a bill to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); a bill intended to improve transparency by revising the way families obtain information about colleges from the Department of Education; and a bill to require colleges to do more to ensure that financial aid recipients understand their obligations as well as options.

There are some areas of agreement between the House and Senate approaches. For example, both would consolidate student-loan repayment plans into a single income-based repayment program; make Pell Grants available year-round; improve students’ financial literacy and offer improved financial counseling for students; and simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). AAU staff is working on additional analysis of the two reauthorization plans.

Chairman Kline says he anticipates votes on at least some of the bills he is introducing before the November election. Senator Harkin’s statement in the Committee press release did not say when he would try to move a bill, but that the discussion draft represents his “initial thoughts.” He said that other policies should also be addressed as part of an HEA reauthorization, including development of a student record system, reforming accreditation, and additional simplification measures. He added that he looked forward to a “robust discussion.”

SENATORS INTRODUCE TRANSFER ACT TO STRENGTHEN RESEARCH COMMERCIALIZATION NEW

On June 26, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Daniel Coats (R-IN) introduced the TRANSFER Act (S. 2551), a bill that would establish the “Innovative Approaches to Technology Transfer Grant Program” to improve or accelerate the commercialization of federally funded research being conducted at universities, federal laboratories, and other non-profit research organizations. Under the legislation, federal funds could be used to support proof of concept work, technology maturation activities, technical validation, technical assistance to licensees, outreach to small business, and other efforts to facilitate translation of early-stage technology to market viability.

The bill would allow institutions of higher education, technology transfer organizations, federal laboratories, public or private non-profit entities, or consortia of any of these types of organizations to apply for grants.

The program would be funded through a small set-aside (.05 percent in 2015, .1 percent in 2016 and 2017) of federal agency extramural research or R&D budgets, to be drawn from the STTR expenditure requirements for each agency.

Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Chris Collins (R-NY) originally introduced the TRANSFER Act in the House (H.R. 2981), in August 2013. AAU, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and other organizations sent a letter of support for the Kilmer-Collins bill. The House-passed National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4435), which passed the House on May 22, includes the TRANSFER Act language.

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