The House Budget Committee voted along party lines late Wednesday night to approve a budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2018 that would require more than $200 billion in cuts to mandatory programs and set the path for a major overhaul of the tax code. The nonbinding budget resolution is simply a broad statement of priorities; it does not have a direct impact on how individual programs (like Pell Grants or the National Institutes of Health) are funded. The full House may vote on the resolution next week, but it could become embroiled there in Republican infighting between conservatives and moderates. No Senate budget resolution action is currently scheduled.
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee already has moved aggressively forward on their FY 2018 spending bills. The committee has now approved all 12 of the spending bills needed to fund the government beginning Oct. 1, although none have been approved by the full House. The Senate has made far less progress, with the full Senate Appropriations Committee having taken up just one bill thus far.
The House committee on Wednesday voted 28-22 to approve the bill to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies. Ahead of the Labor-HHS vote, ACE sent a letter on behalf of 20 other higher education groups to committee leaders in support of the bill’s commitment to medical research and core areas of student financial aid. But the letter also expressed our concern with a proposed $3.3 billion rescission to existing funding for the Pell Grant program, along with other proposed cuts.
The bill demonstrates Congress’s continued strong support for research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—and contains both good and concerning news about federal student aid.
Among the provisions:
- The bill would increase NIH spending by $1.1 billion, instead of the $7.2 billion cut—nearly 20 percent—suggested in the Trump administration's FY 2018 budget proposal. It also includes language specifically barring NIH from changing how it reimburses research institutions for their indirect costs, known as “facilities and administrative” or F&A. (ACE sent a letter on this issue to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.)
- The maximum Pell Grant would be maintained at $5,920, but as noted above, $3.3 billion would be taken from the program's $8.5 billion surplus in a rescission of existing funding. ACE has opposed efforts to use this funding for any purpose outside of the program. Congress has nonetheless done so several times over the past few years, including to restore year-round Pell Grants in FY 2017.
- Funding for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Program (SEOG) and the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program would be level-funded from FY 2017. The Trump budget proposed eliminating the SEOG and stripping FWS of nearly half of its funding.
In the coming days, House Republicans hope to pass a package of four other spending bills with broad support on the House floor before they leave for the August recess. However, much of the work to date might be moot for what eventually happens on spending for FY 2018. Few of the bills approved by the House Appropriations Committee would be able to pass in the Senate at their current levels, and the most likely scenario is that House and Senate leaders will have to pass short-term extensions (known as continuing resolutions) until they can work out a bipartisan spending deal for the remainder of the fiscal year.