Higher Education bill may have more funds for language study

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Sep 20 14:53:33 UTC 2005

>>From the issue dated September 23, 2005

Senate Compromise Yields a Bipartisan Higher-Education Bill


When Michael B. Enzi, a Republican, became chairman of the Senate's
education committee last January, he struck a deal with the ranking
Democrat, Edward M. Kennedy: They would focus on the 80 percent of issues
they could agree on, and leave the other 20 percent -- the divisive ones
-- for the Senate floor. Nine months later, the fruits of that "80-20
agreement" between Mr. Enzi, of Wyoming, and Mr. Kennedy, of
Massachusetts, can be seen in the committee's plans to renew the Higher
Education Act, the law that governs federal student-aid policy. The bill,
which was jointly introduced and unanimously approved by the committee
this month, offers compromises on several sticky issues and sidesteps
other controversies altogether.

For example, the measure rejects a House of Representatives plan to
penalize colleges for big tuition increases, and opts not to revise the
formula used to allocate funds in the government's three campus-based aid
programs, as a House panel would. The bill also eschews a controversial
House plan to create a federal advisory board on international-affairs and
foreign-language programs. On issues dealing with proprietary
institutions, the bill seeks the middle ground, relaxing some restrictions
on for-profit colleges' participation in federal-aid programs but
continuing to exclude the colleges from the definition of an "institution
of higher education." Broadening that definition to include for-profit
colleges would make those institutions eligible for millions of dollars of
federal aid.

Meanwhile, the bill contains one of Mr. Kennedy's top priorities: a new
$4.5-billion program for Pell Grant recipients. Those compromises yielded
a consensus bill that moved quickly through committee, unfettered by
amendments. Indeed, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and
Pensions Committee spent only 40 minutes discussing the bill before
sending it on to the full Senate. That stands in stark contrast to the
equivalent House panel's debate, when members wrangled for three days over
dozens of amendments dealing with academic freedom, for-profit education,
campus-based aid, and other issues. Some Democrats on the House Education
and the Workforce Committee complained that they were largely excluded
from the lawmaking process.

"Clearly, they made a decision not to work out a bipartisan bill," said a
House aide who worked on the legislation.

Honey, Not Vinegar

Senate aides said their bill was crafted cooperatively, with input from
staff members and senators on both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan
negotiations began in May, and culminated in late August with
round-the-clock meetings among Senate aides. "Democrats wouldn't have done
anything differently," one Democratic aide said. Some Democrats see the
committee's cooperation on the bill as a sign of a return to
bipartisanship in education policy making. They credit the chairman's
collaborative approach with the swift approval not only of that bill, but
also of two work-force bills that provide millions of dollars in
job-training grants to colleges and universities, the Workforce Investment
Act and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

"Mike Enzi has shown that you get more bees with honey than with vinegar,"
said Michael Dannenberg, an aide to Senator Kennedy who recently left to
become the director of education policy for the New America Foundation.
That doesn't mean that everyone was completely satisfied with the bill.
Some Democrats would have liked the loan-forgiveness provisions to go
further, and Senator Kennedy said he was disappointed that the bill did
not completely close a loophole that has guaranteed lenders a 9.5-percent
return on certain loans. Some Republicans, including the committee's
former chairman, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and John H. (Johnny)
Isakson, of Georgia, would have liked the bill to give students the option
of consolidating their loans at a fixed or variable interest rate, as the
House version would.

Three senators served notice at the markup that they would seek to amend
the bill when it reaches the Senate floor. Hillary Rodham Clinton,
Democrat of New York, said the bill should ease the "work penalty" for
independent students, as well as dependent students. And Mr. Gregg argued
that the new grant program should serve only the poorest students, rather
than all Pell Grant recipients.

Meanwhile, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, a Republican from
Tennessee, said he would fight to increase the authorization for a
separate $1-billion grant program serving needy students who major in
mathematics, scientific fields, or foreign languages that are considered
important to national security.

Hurdles Remain

Still, Senate Democrats indicated that they were unlikely to seek major
changes in the bill if the bipartisan agreement holds as the bill moves
through the Senate and on to a conference committee with the U.S. House of
Representatives. There, senators and representatives will meet to
reconcile their considerable differences over college costs, loan
consolidation, and for-profit institutions.

Senator Enzi has said he expects the bill to move quickly to a floor vote,
though some higher-education lobbyists suspect the bill will take a back
seat to legislation dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The
Senate education committee was expected to offer a comprehensive
hurricane-relief package last week.

Lobbyists predict that Senate leaders will also wait to see what happens
with reconciliation, the process by which members of Congress cut spending
on federal entitlement programs to reduce the federal deficit.

As written, the Senate's bill ties reconciliation to the reauthorization
of the Higher Education Act, using savings generated by cutting government
subsidies to private lenders to reduce the federal budget deficit and
create two new grant programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates
that the cuts contained in the bill would save as much as $13.9-billion
over five years, and up to $37-billion over 10 years.

But Republican Congressional leaders have recently come under intense
pressure to drop their reconciliation plans, and Mr. Frist and Mr. Gregg
announced last week that the Senate would delay the process for more than
a month to focus on more-pressing matters related to the hurricane

If Congress abandons reconciliation but maintains the cuts to lender
subsidies, it would free up several billion dollars of additional money
that could be applied to student aid.

Section: Government & Politics
Volume 52, Issue 5, Page A32

Copyright  2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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