Politics Control Legislation Outlook; with Congress Having Other Priorities These Days, the HEA Reauthorization and the Pell Grant Increase Could Fail

Article excerpt

The heat of politics, combined with the humid heat of a Washington, D.C., summer, is putting a damper on the progress of legislation in Congress that is important to the higher education community.

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is the most significant measure remaining, and chances appear to be 5050 at best that it will happen before the 109th Congress fades into history this fall, says Terry Hartle, senior vice president for Government and Public Affairs at the American Council on Education (ACE).

Higher ed advocates in the capital also have an interest in a bill approved by a House subcommittee for a modest $100 increase in Pell Grants, but politics also might get in the way of its passage this year.

While these measures are important to the higher ed community, they pale in comparison to issues like the war in Iraq and immigration that are dominating the political agenda in the nation's capital. With midterm elections coming up in November, incumbents in both parties are wary of bringing up anything for a vote that might give an edge to their political foes in the bitterly divisive Congress.

HEA ACTION IRRELEVANT?

HEA, which was passed by the House in March, is stuck in the Senate--and "the closer we get to the elections, the more political considerations start to enter into the calculation of what comes to the Senate floor, and when," Hartle points out.

Actually, it doesn't matter much whether the Senate acts on the bill or not. The guts of reauthorization--which included $12.7 billion in student loan cuts--were part of the Deficit Reduction Act that Congress enacted early in the year. No essential HEA components remain. "The programs work and there is nothing that absolutely, positively has to be fixed," says Hartle, if Congress tails to act, it probably will simply extend the current higher ed law into next year and leave it to the next Congress to consider, Hartle says. …