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President to President
Molly Corbett Broad's weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders.

President to President: Fiscal Cliff Deadline Nears

Vol. 13, No. 38

  • ​Fiscal Cliff Deadline Nears
  • Senate Bill Directs Development of Consumer Information for GI Bill Beneficiaries
  • HHS Urged to Revise Proposed Health Care Regulations
  • Presidents Urge Conversation, Action on Gun Safety
  • IN BRIEF: NACUBO Offers New Guidance on Student Debit Cards; CFPB Releases Private Student Loan Examination Procedures

Before I update you on the week in Washington, I want to take a moment to note the passing on Monday of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), at age 88. The World War II hero, Medal of Honor winner and giant of the Senate was universally liked and admired by his colleagues and the policy and advocacy community for his integrity, bipartisanship and stewardship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Read more about his extraordinary life here.

The focus this week in Washington has been on the ever-closer fiscal cliff deadline of Dec. 31.

Early in the week, it seemed that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) were close to reaching a compromise to avert the cliff. However, Speaker Boehner abruptly withdrew from those negotiations and introduced legislation he called "Plan B", which would have left Bush-era tax rates in place for everyone with a family income below $1 million. Boehner scheduled a full House vote on the measure for Thursday night.

Boehner also introduced a second bill that would have averted automatic spending cuts in defense by replacing them with larger reductions in non-defense spending (programs like mortgage relief, food stamps and the child tax credit). This measure was actually voted on first and passed narrowly. But the close margin made it clear that Plan B would not attract sufficient Republican support to pass the House, so Speaker Boehner pulled it from consideration.

The House recessed last night and the Senate is expected to do so today. Both chambers are slated to reconvene between Christmas and New Year's. However, at this point it seems very likely that we will go over the fiscal cliff as there is no apparent path forward. Of course, fiscal cliff is somewhat of a misnomer—effects will not be felt immediately and agencies will implement cuts at a pace we do not yet know. We remain concerned about the fate of the charitable giving deduction and the range of higher education-related tax incentives that have already or will expire as of Dec. 31, along with a number of other so-called tax extenders.

I will be back in touch if a final deal is struck to share its impact on higher education.

Earlier this week, ACE and other higher education associations expressed support for legislation that directs the secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy to provide important consumer information for veterans using GI Bill education benefits.

In a letter to Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard M. Burr (R-NC), we noted that the higher education community greatly appreciates their efforts to address issues raised by our member institutions with an earlier House bill and thanked them for their continuing commitment on behalf of our nation's veterans.

The legislation, which took the form of an amendment to H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act, takes care to ensure that the consumer information requirements will complement, rather than duplicate, similar efforts already underway at the Department of Education or other federal agencies, or as part of the White House Principles of Excellence initiative. I also noted in the letter that we strongly support provisions in the bill aimed at protecting veterans from fraudulent and unduly aggressive recruiting practices, which have occurred at a small subset of institutions. The measure passed the Senate Wednesday night and now returns to the House for final approval, though it is unclear if the House will take it up before the end of the 112th Congress.

Today, we sent a letter on behalf of the higher education community to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging the agency to revise proposed market rules regulations under the Affordable Care Act because of their potentially adverse effect on student health insurance plans.

The letter focuses on a requirement in the proposed regulations that student health insurance coverage be rated and priced as part of each state's individual market single risk pool, which we believe will result in higher premiums and undermine the ability of institutions to continue to offer the coverage. We have asked HHS to revise the proposed regulations to permit separate risk pooling and experience rating for student coverage based on the eligible campus population of students and their dependents.

In the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week, many of us are asking what, if anything, we might do. In that vein, I wanted to call your attention to two open letters that are being circulated by several college presidents.

The first, offered by M. Lee Pelton of Emerson College (MA), is a pledge to engage our campus communities in conversations next semester about gun violence. The second, which is being led by Oglethorpe University (GA) President Lawrence M. Schall and Agnes Scott College (GA) President Elizabeth Kiss, asks policy makers to address the issue of gun safety through "common sense measures." I have signed on to both letters and you can do so as well by contacting the authors directly.

In addition, you may wish to note that ACE's 95th Annual Meeting will feature a session on guns on campus. "Under Siege: Guns on Campus," is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, at 10 AM. If you have not yet registered for the meeting, you can do so here.

IN BRIEF

The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) this week released new guidance for campuses that offer students debit cards. This comes after a number of members of Congress voiced concerns about business arrangements between financial institutions, colleges and universities to produce student IDs that may also function as debit or prepaid cards and be used to disburse financial aid. (You may recall my Aug. 15 letter on the subject.)

NACUBO's document, which includes 10 general guidelines, urges campuses to keep students' interests first in dealing with financial institutions, and to ensure students have access to current consumer information. It also cautions institutions to protect their students from unscrupulous marketing efforts in communications from financial institutions. You may want to pass along this helpful overview to the individuals on your campus who oversee these arrangements.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Monday published its new procedures for evaluating private student loan providers, specifically large banks as well as other entities that make these loans. Among the items CFPB will review are whether marketing efforts are accurate and include disclosure procedures, account information and complaint policies. The full document is available on the CFPB website.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE