WASHINGTON UPDATE; HEA Renewal Faces Roadblocks

Article excerpt

Although it has been billed as one of the top legislative tasks of the 108th U.S. Congress, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act may be postponed until next year due to stalled action in Congress and diversions posed by the upcoming presidential election.

"I think that for right now, the legislation is generally moving in the direction of the trash can," said Dr. Thomas Wolanin, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. "There has only been a little action on the House side and none at all in the Senate, and all the while the clock is ticking."

Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., agreed. "It is just very difficult right now to make any predictions as to what is going to happen. Someone told me yesterday that the Senate has 270 of our bills sitting over there, and I just don't see how there can be action on everything," Ballenger said.

First passed in 1965, HEA is the major means by which the federal government provides financial aid to postsecondary students. Set to expire Sept. 30, the measure has been reauthorized by Congress seven times.

So far during this session, the House has passed four of seven bills related to reauthorization. In the Senate, the committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has held three heatings exploring various aspects of the renewal.

But even though committee chairman Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., has said he would like to see a Senate version of reauthorization come out of his committee by March 22 -- in time for National Education Week its fortunes beyond that vote remain mired in doubt.

"I think there are just more and more people who believe that this simply is not going to happen this year," said Paul Hassen, assistant director of public affairs at the American Council on Education. "There are a lot of other things going on in Congress besides reauthorization of HEA, which means that it then becomes a question of whether there is enough time to get everything done."

Also hampering a renewal of the measure is the 2004 presidential race. Instead of its traditional three-week summer hiatus, Congress will adjourn for six weeks beginning in mid-July for the Democratic and Republican national conventions. …