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President to President

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

President to President, April 11-15, 2011

Vol. 12, No. 15

  • Congress Approves Final FY 2011 Spending Plan; Work on FY 2012 Budget Begins
  • ACE, Higher Education Groups Comment on Student Health Plan Rules
  • House Judiciary Committee Approves Patent Reform Bill
  • IN BRIEF: ACE Asks California Supreme Court to Hear Breach of Research Contract Case; Obama Administration Releases Toolkit on College Completion

Congress yesterday passed the compromise spending measure (H.R. 1473) hammered out last week to fund the federal government for the remaining six months of FY 2011. President Obama is expected to sign it today. The resulting law, which protects the maximum Pell Grant award but imposes cuts on other important higher education programs, ends months of contentious debate and clears the way for what is expected to be an even bigger battle over the FY 2012 budget.

The House approved H.R. 1473 by a vote of 260-167, after which the Senate quickly signed off on the measure 81-19.

The final bill cuts a total of $39.9 billion from the federal budget. It preserves the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,500 but eliminates year-round Pell Grants. Funding was reduced from FY 2010 levels for the following programs: Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants ($20 million), TRIO ($25 million) and GEAR UP ($20 million). Thurgood Marshall Legal Scholarships, B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarships, Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarships and Teach for America appropriations were completely eliminated.

On the research side, the National Institutes of Health sustained a $260 million cut from FY 2010 levels, while the National Science Foundation was cut by $67 million and the Department of Energy's Office of Science was cut by $20 million (see this very helpful AAAS analysis of how research and development fared in the bill).

After sending H.R. 1473 to the Senate, the House began debate on the austere FY 2012 budget resolution introduced last week by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), passing the resolution this afternoon by a vote of 235-193. The plan would impose major changes on Medicare and Medicaid and sweeping cuts in domestic spending, including a reduction in total funding for the Pell Grant Program to FY 2008 levels. David Warren and I, as co-chairs of the Student Aid Alliance, sent a letter yesterday urging House members to oppose the resolution, as we strongly believe cutting student aid funding does not in the least contribute toward the stated goal of a "stronger, more prosperous America."

As always, the fate of the measure in the Senate is unclear. Keep in mind, however, a budget resolution does not get signed into law by the president—it is simply a step Congress takes to establish the parameters for its work on the federal budget.

President Obama also waded into the budget deficit debate this week, calling for sharp cuts in defense and domestic spending and higher taxes on the wealthy to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. During his address at The George Washington University (GW), the president said the federal government would continue to prioritize medical research, clean energy technology, education and infrastructure. He also announced that a bipartisan group of 16 members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden would meet to develop a final plan by late June.

So while the threat of a government shutdown is over for now, the intense focus on cutting government spending remains, and the president's strong statement at GW will likely harden positions on both sides. The discussion over these issues will be long and complex. We will follow it closely and keep you informed.

We submitted comments this week to the Department of Health and Human Services on proposed rules relating to student health insurance coverage under the health care reform legislation signed into law last year.

The new regulations are in part a response to a request we made along with the American College Health Association and several other organizations for guidance to help colleges and universities offer student health plans that comply with the consumer protections created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Although the resulting rules are generally quite helpful, we offered several suggestions to help fine-tune them in final form, including revising the definition of what qualifies as a student health plan and providing guidance on self-funded plans. We also proposed that the final regulations permit students and their dependents to be eligible for the ACA's tax credits to help ensure they can afford to purchase ACA-compliant student health insurance coverage.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249) on Thursday by a vote of 32-3, bringing us one step closer to the long-anticipated goal of reforming the nation's patent system.

H.R. 1249, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), would move the U.S. patent system from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system, which most other countries currently use. It also would authorize the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which is dealing with an overwhelming backlog of patent applications, to set its own fees.

The so-called manager's amendment (a package of individual amendments agreed to by both sides in advance) addressed some of our concerns highlighted by Association of American Universities (AAU) Executive Vice President John Vaughn in his testimony at a hearing last month. There are outstanding issues to be addressed, but overall, the bill that emerged is very strong, uniting in support for the first time major coalitions such as the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform and the Coalition for Patent Fairness. (Read the letter AAU, ACE and others sent to Rep. Smith in support of the bill here.)

The bill now moves to the full House for a vote. The Senate approved its patent reform bill (S. 23) in March.

IN BRIEF

ACE has asked the California Supreme Court to review a California 2nd District Court of Appeals decision in Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern California. The case deals with the speculation about profits Sargon might have lost when USC breached an academic, non-commercial research agreement with the company, which makes dental implants. We believe the ruling has the potential to jeopardize the integrity of academic research and encourage exorbitant damage claims against universities. The letter was also signed by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Stanford University Board of Trustees and the California Institute of Technology.

Vice President Joe Biden last month unveiled an administration plan and accompanying toolkit to directly involve governors in efforts to boost college graduation rates. Speaking at an education conference in Washington, the vice president suggested each governor hold a college completion summit to discuss ideas on how to achieve President Obama's goal for the United States to have the best graduation rate in the world by 2020. The plan, which I encourage you all to review, offers seven low-cost or no-cost strategies to improve completion, with specific examples of how each is already being used.

President to President will resume when Congress reconvenes after the Spring recess.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE