This Week In Washington
This week, both chambers were scheduled to mark up their respective fiscal year 2019 spending bills that fund the Department of Education (ED). The Senate marked up its bill in subcommittee on Tuesday, and the full committee marked up the final bill on Thursday. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a vote. The Senate bill continues funding for the Temporary Expanded PSLF program. Meanwhile, the full House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to mark up its bill on Tuesday, but delayed the markup until sometime after the Fourth of July. Recall, the House bill contained a modest increase in funding to ED and did not include an extension of the Temporary Expanded PSLF program.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on President Trump’s plan to overhaul the federal government, including merging the Departments of Education and Labor into a new Department of Education and the Workforce. Questioning at the hearing fell along party lines with Republicans generally supportive and Democrats not so much. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman of the House education committee, had praised the idea, but the Chairman of the Senate education committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), was less bullish on the merger. Additionally, Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member on the Senate education committee, blasted the idea as “unrealistic, unhelpful, and futile.” Because the proposal will require Congressional action, it is unlikely to move beyond the proposal stage.
On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which challenged the constitutionality of mandating public-sector employees that are represented by a union to pay an “agency” fee to the union regardless of whether they are a union member. The Court held that such a requirement was unconstitutional and a violation of an employee’s First Amendment rights, meaning that non-union-member public-sector employees that are represented by a union are no longer required to pay agency fees. This ruling could have implications for unions at public higher education institutions.
The following bill(s) have been recently introduced for consideration by the 115th Congress (2017-2018):
S. 3124 – Help Encourage a Lifetime of Public Service (HELPS) Act [Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)] would waive the interest on borrowers’ federal student loans for each year they work in public service, require annual employment certification, and expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to cover farmers and volunteer first responders.