Midterm Election Aftermath


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired November 21, 2022

As the final vote counts start wrapping up, it’s become clear that Congress will be even more narrowly divided than it was before. Terry Hartle and Jon Fansmith return to talk about what the midterm elections mean for higher education policy in the lame-duck session and beyond. Terry and Jon also answer listeners’ questions about the future of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

How Joe Biden and the Democratic Party Defied Midterm History
CNN | Nov. 13, 2022

Elections 2022: The Educational Divide That Helps Explain the Midterms
Politico | Nov. 17, 2022

Amid Court Challenges to Its Student Debt Forgiveness, Biden Administration Could Extend Payment Pause Yet Again
CNBC | Nov. 15, 2022

Democrats Mull Debt Limit Options as Lame-duck Window Narrows
Roll Call | Nov. 15, 2022

Is It Now or Never for DACA?
Politico | Nov. 15, 2022

Letter Urging 117th Congress to Protect Dreamers Before Adjourning

Remember the Dreamers

Cassidy in Line for Top Help GOP Slot as Paul Takes Oversight Role
Axios | Nov. 17, 2022

Oversight a Priority for GOP on House Education and Labor Panel
Bloomberg Law | Nov. 17, 2022


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU. In this episode of our monthly interactive recording, Terry Hartle joins me to talk about the recent midterm elections and what a narrowly divided Congress will mean for higher education policy this year and the next. As always, we appreciate your questions and suggestions for show ideas, and you can share those with us at podcast@acenet.edu. That’s podcast@acenet.edu. Now enjoy the conversation.

Hello and welcome to today’s post-election Public Policy Pop-Up. Thank you all for joining us. I’m Jon Fansmith in Government Relations here at ACE, and I am joined as usually I am joined, by my esteemed colleague, Terry Hartle, ACE senior vice president for government and public affairs. Hi, Terry.

Terry Hartle: Hello, Jon. Good to be here.

Jon Fansmith: Good to have you. Today we’re going to dig into the midterm elections, what may or may not happen in the lame-duck session, and what to expect for higher education in the new Congress. This is one I think will be a lot of fun to talk about today, Terry.

Terry Hartle: It certainly will be, and we’ll have plenty of opinions to share.

Jon Fansmith: Some we won’t share.

Terry Hartle: Hopefully some factual knowledge too.

Jon Fansmith: I’ll start maybe and give you my three takeaways in terms of things that stuck out to me looking at what we saw.

And the first one is the obvious one, right? This was not what anyone expected. There had been some thought the Senate Democrats would retain the Senate, but I think the question on the House side was always how big the red wave will be, how many seats Republicans would pick up. And there’s a lot of historic basis for that; on average, the party in power loses 27 House seats and three Senate seats. Recently, that’s been even more pronounced in a midterm election. President Trump lost 39 seats in his first midterm, President Obama lost 69 seats in his first midterm, and President Clinton lost 60 in his first. We’re looking right now at Republicans taking 11, maybe 14, somewhere in that range. Total seats gained half of what the average is. It’s a shock. It’s a shock to everyone, certainly to Republicans who had big plans for what they would do in the majority.

I know we’ll talk a little bit later about what that narrow margin means, but the second thing that stuck out to me was the role of youth voters. 27 percent of registered voters 18 to 24 voted this year. It’s not a huge number when you think about it, 27 percent, but it’s the second-highest young voter turnout in a midterm since 2018. And that, I think, is indicative of maybe there were some issues on the ballot that people were concerned about, particularly around the Dobbs decision and the decision around Roe, but also a growing impact of youth voters. Certainly something a lot of our colleges and universities are tracking in terms of civic engagement and in helping their students participate in the democratic process. But youth voters are a growing segment of the voting bloc. They’re going to get more attention paid to them by Congress.

And then the third thing that struck me was what we have seen, this continuing growth in the split between party affiliation by educational level. If you have a college degree, you are now very likely to vote Democratic. If you don’t have a college degree, you are now very likely to vote Republican. As recently as 2012, college educated voters were pretty evenly split between the two parties. But now there was a Politico piece that says Democrats control 77% of the most highly educated districts, whereas Republicans control 64% of the districts with the largest percentage of people without a college degree. As we go through this, we have seen this cycle after cycle after cycle from 2012. There’s a lot of implications to that, but first and foremost, if you have one party that is increasingly affiliated with having a college degree and one party that is increasingly affiliated with not having a college degree, that will likely influence what they see as important, where they want to put their money, the kinds of policies they want to implement.

So a lot of interesting things. There’s a million ways we could go with this, but, Terry, do you want to throw three takeaways that you saw that were interesting to you?

Terry Hartle: Sure. I think the first one simply builds off the last point you made, which is that education has become a major fault line in voting patterns in the United States. You and I have both had Capitol Hill Republicans tell us that their members don’t have much reason to support higher education because college graduates don’t vote for their members. They don’t think we serve their constituents, and therefore they feel much more freedom, I think, to advance critical policies and postures towards colleges and universities. And I think they feel they have less reason to support student aid, for example, because many of their constituents’ kids don’t go to college.

In fact, I think this is something of a misreading of the numbers. In 2020, 50% of men with a BA voted for Donald Trump, 44% of women with a BA voted for Donald Trump. So I think it’s sort of misreading the evidence, but we live in a world in which perception is increasing of the reality that elected officials are going to work from. So that would be one thing. I think this is problematic for us because, as you pointed out, if Republicans don’t think their constituents have a stake in higher education, given that colleges and universities don’t have PACs, don’t do issue advertising, I think Republicans are going to be less and less inclined to support what goes on on college campuses regardless of its impact and importance for the nation’s long-term well-being.

Second thing I’d say is pollsters blew it for the third election out of the last four. Pollsters badly underestimated Donald Trump’s popularity in 2016. They said that they had figured out how to address that, but they badly underestimated his popularity in 2020 as well, and they overestimated the chances in 2020 that Democrats would make gains on Capitol Hill. In fact, Democrats lost seats on Capitol Hill, almost unheard of in a presidential election. So the pollsters got it wrong again this time. I’m sure that they’re engaged in an effort to figure out why. But what that tells us is that whereas maybe a decade or 15 years ago, people assumed that if a pollster said something it was likely to be true, I don’t think you can say that anymore. They might get it in the right direction, but the numbers that they come up with don’t seem to be as accurate as they used to be.

I think another point I’d make is that governing is likely to be impossible. Whatever you’re looking at in the House, the Republicans will have a very thin margin. That means the only way they will be able to get anything done is if they line up all of their members or if they start cutting deals with Democrats, which will alienate many of their members.

Now, part of the challenge for Republicans is going to be to figure out why the election turned out as it did. There are a fair number of Republican voices saying “We lost seats because we weren’t consistent enough with the agenda that Donald Trump has laid out for us,” that “We really didn’t put forward a governing agenda that expressed all the MAGA priorities, and that’s why we lost.” There are a lot of other Republicans who think the election turned out the way it did because, frankly, a lot of their candidates scared people. And until Republicans figure that out, if they figure it out, it’s going to be very, very hard for them to figure out how to approach governing.

Kevin McCarthy is very likely to be the next Speaker of the House, but in yesterday’s elections, he got 188 votes. He needs 218 to go forward and become the Speaker. We will now see the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus try to extract concessions from him before they give him their votes to be speaker. And those concessions are going to be designed to ensure that the Republican Party moves in a particular direction, I think. So the toughest job in Washington, it might be the President’s second-toughest job, is likely to be Kevin McCarthy or whoever becomes Speaker of the House.

Now, finally, because governing is likely to be impossible, don’t look for Congress to pass legislation. Look for a lot of investigations and hearings and efforts to stoke outrage about something or another that’s going on in the country. I think we learned today that Republicans have already announced the first hearing on Hunter Biden. He’s going to have a rough couple of years as long as the Republicans are controlling the House. I suspect we will see the House Education and Workforce Committee, as it is about to be renamed, launch a number of hearings related to a constellation of issues in education and higher education. But I don’t think anybody expects that they’ll produce legislation.

Higher ed reauthorization, somebody’s sure to ask about it. No, not going to happen. It’s just too difficult to find enough bipartisan consensus to move legislation forward. Remember the last time Republicans controlled the House, the House Ed and Workforce Committee did produce a higher education reauthorization, but it was such a conservative bill that they couldn’t even bring it up on the House floor for a vote, where they had a clear majority. Now they have a tiny majority. So I think the likelihood we’re going to see a lot of time spent on legislation is pretty modest.

Jon Fansmith: And so moving off of legislation for a second and where the Congress is coming out of the election, the other issue, I feel like we talk about this on pretty much every one of these pop-ups, is student loan forgiveness. And the administration has announced their plan, they put it forward, they collected 16 million applications. They initially successfully fought off some legal challenges, but of late that has shifted on them. Terry, you want to talk a little bit about what’s happening in the student loan forgiveness space or what we are waiting to hear from the courts about?

Terry Hartle: Sure. Well, we’ve got two court cases that have halted the Biden administration’s efforts to implement universal loan forgiveness. One in the Eighth Circuit Court, one in a trial court in Texas that is in the Fifth Circuit. Yesterday afternoon, the Biden administration asked the judge in the Texas case to vacate his decision. In other words, to allow them to proceed with their plan to offer universal student loan forgiveness. That, even if he were to do that, does not make entirely the difference because we’ve still got the Eighth Circuit Court that has blocked the Biden administration. Biden administration said that if the judge did not reverse himself, they will ask for an expedited hearing on this matter by the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. At the end of the day, Jon, we’re heading for the Supreme Court. That’s where this is going to end up.

The question is not whether ends up there, it’s how quickly it ends up there. If it doesn’t end up there quickly, i.e. in the next couple of weeks, which I think given the pace at which the judicial system usually operates, now the Biden administration’s going to face an immediate question about what to do about starting student loan repayment. And there are a number of groups and organizations, a number of politicians who have called on the Biden administration, to block the end of the repayment pause. In other words, to block repayments from starting on January 1st, as is scheduled, until this is settled in the courts. The argument is that it doesn’t make sense to make people start repaying their student loans if we’re going to turn around and cancel some of those student loans in the not too distant future. Biden administration has said “All options are on the table”. In other words, “We are thinking about doing just that.”

One of the questions is how much time would it be before the Biden administration has to show their hand, and you and I think the answer is not much. Remember, student loans are collected by private contractors for the government, and the private contractors need a certain amount of time to adjust their systems and to inform borrowers what their repayment expectations are. Our general feeling, they need 30 days to do that, which probably means we will know in the next two weeks whether the student loan repayment pause will continue in January or whether it will end. Biden administration clearly wants to end it. But given the data you just cited about the substantial turnout of young voters in the election, the Biden administration probably doesn’t want to do anything to alienate them at this point, at the start of their second term either. So the situation, basically, the student loan universal forgiveness is endangered by the courts. The Supreme Court is ultimately going to have to step in and settle it. It’s not clear what the Biden administration will do in the short run to provide some relief to borrowers, but we should know something soon.

Jon Fansmith: Thank you. And so that’s the courts. We’ve talked a little bit about the election. All the attention right now is on the next Congress: who’s in it, who’s out, what the leadership will be. And we will talk about that, I promise everyone. But before Congress gets to that, before we get to that, there’s still time left in this congressional session, the lame-duck session falling after an election. And there are some really important things that Congress has to deal with. So Terry, you want to walk through what are the top issues for the lame-duck?

Terry Hartle: Sure, why don’t I do that and then I’ll let you sort of summarize what the big issues might be for higher education. But I think the short way to describe this is to say Congress will be in session for a relatively short period of time, about five weeks, and they have a very crowded buffet of issues to choose from.

At the top of the list, extending the federal government’s ability to operate beyond December 16th. We have not passed spending bills yet to keep the federal government operating beyond the middle of December. Congress has a couple of choices. They can pass another short-term spending bill. They can pass a spending bill that covers the rest of the year, or they can let the government close 10 days before Christmas. The third is not terribly likely. What we don’t know is whether they’ll pass permanent spending bills or whether we’ll kick the can further down the road.

Second issue that’s being discussed is the debt ceiling. Next year, probably in March, the federal government will hit the debt ceiling. Congress needs to extend it, or all sorts of economic chaos is likely to ensue. More military aid for Ukraine is very important, particularly since Republicans are going to control the House. And there are a number of Republicans in the House who don’t really want to give any more money to Ukraine. Some of you will remember that Kevin McCarthy sparked a little bit of a firestorm when he suggested a couple of months ago that maybe Republicans would not provide more money for Ukraine. He backed away from that. But Ukraine could be another flashpoint between the Biden administration and a Republican Congress. Biden administration very strongly committed to Ukraine. Most Republicans strongly committed to Ukraine, but there are some who think that this is not something we should be spending time or money on. So Ukraine could be a flashpoint.

Finally, Medicare cuts are in the offing. This is a longstanding piece of legislation that would cut Medicare and increase costs for seniors. This is likely to be very unpopular. Congress will block it. Exactly how they will block it remains to be seen, but it’s something else they’re going to have to take on during this period.

Jon Fansmith: A lot of these big-picture national things will drive both the floor time that’s available to address them as well as where the debate is. But there are some things that are critically important for higher ed among what they have to do through the lame-duck.

And Terry, you touched on appropriations. That is a big one. Like the omnibus, by December 16th, has a lot in there that we care about. The budget in the house was about $11 billion increase for the Department of Education. The Senate numbers, which were partisan, they were released by Senate Democrats, they were about 8 billion above the FY 22 levels. So there was inclusion of $500 for Pell Grant in both proposals. There’s substantial funding for NIH, new funding for NIH, increases across the board for most of the programs we care about, some of them substantial relative to the size of those programs. There’s also the fact that, as we’ve seen in previous years, the longer this goes on, the harder it is for the agencies to administer some of these programs, to understand their budget. So for, particularly on the research side, it’s good to get this resolved. It’s good to let the agencies know what they have, where the authority is to make grants. We really hope to see that. Encouraged a little bit by some of what we’re hearing, that they might hit that December 16th timeline or something close to it before the end of the year. But we will obviously be watching that very closely.

The other big must-do bill, that has a lot of impact on higher ed, well, not necessarily obviously, but the National Defense Authorization Act. This is an annual bill. It always gets large bipartisan votes. The other thing it always gets is tons of amendments that aren’t particularly related to national defense, many of which may impact higher education. There had been talks about possibly bills around research security and foreign influence. Bills that would include the College Transparency Act, which would create a student-level database at the Department of Education, Pell eligibility for short-term programs. We don’t think CTA and Pell will be included in the NDAA, but there are other things in there that are of impact to institutions, things around record-keeping and data reporting and other things that may come up. So one we track very closely.

Finally, one that you didn’t mention that we have not heard a lot of talk about, but we are hopeful there might be action on, would be related to DACA. And our review of the judicial—we’ve talked about this before in previous pop-ups—the Fifth Circuit Court, a district court in the Fifth Circuit, is considering the Biden administration’s new regulations around DACA and the substantive issues that may be within those regulations. They could very well strike down the Biden administration’s existing DACA program regulations. If they do, that ends the program. And I think most people are familiar, just in case, DACA is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. These are the Dreamers, children who were brought to this country by parents usually without going through the proper documented processes.

So we would love to see legislation. Legislation is the fix for DACA. We are pushing for it. We continue to push for it. We have a website that people are probably familiar with, rememberthedreamers.org, that you should check out if you aren’t familiar with it, and we will push for that. But I think, Terry, we started off talking about how narrowly divided this Congress is. Immigration legislation is incredibly hard to do under the best of circumstances. A narrowly divided Congress in a presidential election cycle is not the best of circumstances.  We are optimistic, but we’re also realistic. This is a hard environment. Even with bipartisan support for Dreamers, it’s a hard environment to get something done in.

Again, the district court has to rule. It will certainly be appealed. It might ultimately end up in the Supreme Court, just like loan forgiveness. There is still some time, but something clearly, we know, that our campuses are keeping a close eye on, something we are tracking very closely. The developments around DACA.

So pivoting a little bit from the lame-duck, but carrying on the theme of closely divided government, we are going to have an even more narrowly divided government. Well, actually, I guess in the Senate the Democrats could gain one seat, so it’s somewhat less divided. But the house will be very, very close. I guess first question to you, Terry: are they going to be able to pass anything?

Terry Hartle: They’ll have to pass some things, and they will pass, sooner or later, spending bills to keep the federal government operating. They will have to pass some sort of a debt ceiling extension. It’s not clear how bloody the effort will be to do the debt ceiling extension, but they will have to pass it. Similarly, National Defense Authorization Act, the sort of annual reauthorization of DOD, has to get done. So those things will get passed. The question is are they going to pass anything else? Will they, for example, pass the higher education reauthorization? No. Period. End of paragraph. It’s not going to happen.

We will see, as the appropriations process moves forward, we’re likely to see efforts to add authorizing provisions to the spending bills. We’re likely to see, during the reauthorization of the Department of Defense, efforts to put provisions in there, like things like research security. Certainly we’ve seen this in the last couple of years. So far we’ve been pretty successful in blocking those efforts, but we’re probably going to have to step up to the plate to do that again.

One of the things that’ll come into play next year is, in terms of new administrative responsibilities, the agencies will probably be very uncomfortable with taking them on because they’re unlikely to get the resources necessary to put them in place. We are already seeing this at the Department of Education with the campus climate survey that was authorized under VAWA and the difficulty the Department of Education is signaling in terms of turning that into a workable survey anytime soon. So I think a lot of the agencies will probably say, “Look, we’re willing to do more work, but we need more resources.” Government agencies typically aren’t very sympathetic claimants during the appropriations process.

Might we see specific pieces of legislation? I suppose it’s possible. I think one of the things that sort of unites Democrats and Republicans is worry about affordability of higher education. What to do about it, how the federal government could influence that, and whether they could come up with a bipartisan solution very much remains to be seen.

I just figure this is going to be a year for a lot of hearings about things like race on college campuses, free speech on college campuses, the terrible problems facing some students given the debt that they have borrowed. Virginia Foxx, who may well be the chair of the House Education Workforce Committee was recently quoted as saying that they would be doing two hearings a day, investigating different things. I think her staff pretty much passed out when they heard that because putting hearings together is a pretty complicated undertaking. But I think it gives an indication of what leading Republicans are thinking they are likely to be able to get done now.

They won’t just sit there and hope that they can pass legislation. They’re going to want to make a name for themselves. They’re going to want to be visible and in the media. So I suspect we’ll be seeing lots of investigative hearings, particularly in the House. In the Senate, we don’t know who’s going to be chairing, well, we think we know that Bernie Sanders is going to be chairing the Senate HELP Committee. We thought until earlier today that the ranking Republican would be Rand Paul of Kentucky. So we were anticipating a real Mutt and Jeff sort of a leadership of the committee. But Senator Paul this morning announced he was going to chair a different committee. So he will not be the ranking Republican on the HELP Committee. That looks like it will be Senator Cassidy from Louisiana. In any event, lots of uncertainty, but the likelihood of significant legislation being enacted, I think pretty low.

Jon Fansmith: And I’m going to come back a little bit to some of these leadership changes at the committee level, but we have a question from Kurt Burkham to you, Terry. You very emphatically said the HEA would not be passed. Kurt is asking, did you mean in the current 117th Congress or in the approaching 118th Congress? I think I know your answer, but I’m going to let you give it.

Terry Hartle: Well, since you know my answer, why don’t you give it?

Jon Fansmith: I think “Hell no” was something along the lines of what you would say.

Terry Hartle: Yeah. I think the likelihood that we will see Congress, this Congress, the next Congress, or the Congress after that, pass the Higher Education Act is very, very low. The law is so long, it is so complicated, that you have to have some level of bipartisan agreement to move legislation forward. As I may have mentioned, if I’m repeating myself I apologize, but the last time the Republicans controlled the House, they did manage to pass a higher education reauthorization bill out of committee, but that bill was so conservative that they couldn’t bring it up on the House floor because they didn’t even have the votes of their caucus behind it. So at some point, you’ve got to meet in the middle on some of these major pieces of social policy legislation if you want to get anything done. And meeting in the middle is really not in the skillset of very many people on Capitol Hill, except the most urgent, high-priority, must-pass pieces of legislation.

Don’t get me wrong, the higher education reauthorization needs to be passed. The law is increasingly obsolete. But the fact of the matter that it still continues to pump Pell Grants out to students, student loans out to students, it gives money to HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions, TRIO, GEAR UP, all get funded. So even if the law is obsolete, even if it no longer works well in the current context, amassing the political agreement necessary to enact a thousand-page law is just, I think, a bridge way too far for Congress. I sometimes tell people that Congress will pass the higher education reauthorization in 2040, give or take a decade. I stand by that comment.

Jon Fansmith: We’ll hold you to it too. Going back a little bit to the committee leadership, you mentioned Senator Cassidy is now likely to be the ranking member on HELP with Bernie Sanders. Senator Cassidy certainly in a lot of ways has a higher profile in higher education. And he’s worked bipartisanly on issues like mental health and telehealth. He’s one of the original sponsors of the College Transparency Act. So he has demonstrated both interest and track record around higher education. I think certainly, as you alluded to, maybe a good sign for stability and the ability of the Senate HELP Committee to work together on some of these issues.

But I want to go back to the House because we’ve been talking about Virginia Foxx as the incoming chair. There’s some uncertainty there though, right, Terry? She is not guaranteed to be the chair, even if she is moving forward as if she will be.

Terry Hartle: I think the key word about House leadership, whether it’s the Speaker or anything below the Speaker, is terribly ambiguous. The Republicans elected Kevin McCarthy their next leader. He got 188 votes. He needs 218. The reason he didn’t get over the top was because the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative Republicans in the House, withheld their votes from him. They will now seek to extract concessions from him about the policy agenda and the governing of the House in return for promising to give them his votes. And one of the things they want is they want to make sure they have the ability to fire him if they don’t like what he does. It’s not a good situation when you’re negotiating with somebody about a job and one of their concerns is “Can I fire you?” But that’s really where they are.

Virginia Foxx has exhausted the number of years under Republican rules that she can be chair of the Education and Workforce Committee. She needs a waiver to be able to serve in that position. Before the election, this looked very much like a done deal. Speaker McCarthy had said he was in favor of having Virginia Foxx, even though he didn’t really like to use waivers. And the people who would be the most likely to challenge Chairwoman Foxx indicated that they supported her becoming a committee chair. So before the election, it looked very much as if this would happen. Since the election, I think things are up for grabs. Will the Freedom Caucus, for example, make one of their requirements no more waivers? We don’t know. So we’re just going to have to wait and see how this plays out.

But the longer it takes, the more difficult it is for Republicans to find consensus and common ground in terms of how they’re going to take over the House, the harder it will be for them to manage within their own caucus once they do take over in January. And obviously the Democrats aren’t going to do anything to help them with their own political squabbles going forward. So I think there’s a great deal of ambiguity about what the leadership of the House will look like going forward.

Jon Fansmith: And I think it’s also worth noting, because this is a recent development as we’re talking about leadership, Kevin McCarthy’s counterpart, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced just within an hour or so ago that she would be stepping down from a leadership role the next—retaining her seat, but stepping down from a leadership role. In the Senate, Senator Schumer and McConnell will remain in their positions. But there will be some transition on the Democratic side in the House. And as you’ve noted, Terry, there will be change as Kevin McCarthy ascends to the speakership, if he’s able to get past that vote. Interesting to see what will happen in the House that way.

One other thing before I start going through some of the questions we’ve been receiving: earmarks. Community funded projects, whatever you want to call them, they returned in the last Congress. Much like they were before the ban on earmarks, colleges and universities were the biggest recipients, both in terms of number of earmarks received and the amount of money received. But Republicans in the past, they were the ones who initiated the ban on earmarks. Do you think we will see earmarks remain within the appropriations process? Or is that something that at least in the House they may go after?

Terry Hartle: If we get a 2023 spending bill enacted for the full year in the lame-duck, I think we will still see earmarks. Indeed one of the things that people think might put the current spending bill over the top is that there are a number of very senior appropriators in the House and Senate who are retiring who would like one last round at the earmarks before they leave Congress. It’s very much an open question, I think, whether they’ll want them in the next Congress. One of the issues that the House Freedom Caucus has raised in terms of their support for a speaker bid by Kevin McCarthy is earmarks and whether earmarks will continue to be allowed going forward. So this is just one more thing we’re going to add to the list of, we’ll tell you how it plays out when we have more information and it’s likely to be a while.

Jon Fansmith: So turning to questions, and we’ve got a number of them, I appreciate people sending them in and please keep sending them in. We’ll try to cover as many as we can. We have a few minutes to do so.

I’m going to ask first from Amanda Winterstein asked, reflecting on some of the comments we’ve made, while big legislative agreements, bills that were signed by the President, won’t be likely in the 118th, we’re still likely to be in a whack-a-mole policy and funding posture. Research security, cuts to student aid, scientific research dollars, in markups as annual props and defense authorizations must move. What do you see as higher education institutions’ biggest vulnerabilities in these spaces?

Terry Hartle: Well, I think the biggest vulnerability is something that pops up quickly in one of those bills and passes one house of Congress or another before organizations like ACE and individual institutions can begin to comment to their elected officials about what the impact of this might be. As I’ve said, Congress will pass some legislation. They will pass spending bills. There will be increased pressure, I think, to put substantive policy positions in spending bills because they’re not going to be able to proceed with very much else. They won’t be able to get legislation more broadly out of the authorizing committees. So that’ll become the only train that’s leaving the station. And when that happens, a lot of stuff tends to get hooked onto it or people make an effort to hook stuff onto it. So I think our greatest vulnerability will be legislative riders that will come in pieces of legislation that are not necessarily focused on higher education or even education and that we don’t have enough time to organize a response to.

Jon Fansmith: Thank you, Terry. Very illuminating. We have another question from Carl Brevis, and I thought this was an interesting one. It’s about the lame-duck. What are the chances the proposed reforms to the Electoral Count Act passed during the lame-duck session? This is obviously something we’ve heard quite a bit about since the 2020 election, was certainly one of the key issues in the election we just passed, the midterm. With this limited time, we’ve talked a little bit about the things that they have to do in the short term, is that something you can see happening?

Terry Hartle: Well, no. I mean, the short answer I think is no. Although, Jon, you and I haven’t talked about this. It’s not on any of the lists that I have seen. And I think bringing a voting bill to the floor in this environment where you could have all sorts of crazy amendments coming in from everywhere, means it would be a very challenging bill to pass, particularly when there are so many other major items on the agenda that are going to consume so much time and energy as well. So I would say, nope, don’t think that’s likely to happen.

Jon Fansmith: Okay. Well, we’re keeping with your predictions as to what things will happen. Paul, and I apologize if I mangle your last name, Circvenick, again, I apologize, asks what is the outlook for Pell Grant funding increases in the next two years?

Terry Hartle: I think the outlook for Pell Grant in the next two years is probably reasonably positive because Democrats will control the Senate. The Biden administration remains publicly committed to doubling the Pell Grant program, but we’re not seeing enough money go into the program every year in the annual appropriations process to get there. Nonetheless, having acknowledged that, we had a $400 increase in the maximum Pell Grant last year, it looks like the Democrats want a $500 increase in the maximum Pell Grant this year. Normally, we would be celebrating $900 of increases in two years. Unfortunately, our expectations were raised by the promise to double Pell Grants, so $900 looks like a lot less than the $6,500 we were hoping for.

I think Democrats remain very committed to the Pell Grant program, to using higher education as the best available level to boost individual opportunity and social progress. So I think Democrats in the Senate are going to continue to want to put more money into the Pell Grant program. Republicans in the House will be less likely to want to get there. But historically, Pell has enjoyed some bipartisan agreement, bipartisan support. It’s a voucher, so Republicans like it. It goes to low income individuals, so Democrats like it. So I am cautiously optimistic that we will see continued increase in Pell Grant maximums, probably on the order of what we’ve been seeing for the last couple of years, maybe $400 or $500 every year. That would be a pretty good outcome. Again, it is not doubling, but it’s a pretty good outcome.

Jon Fansmith: And I would just note President Biden has expressed support for doubling the Pell Grant. His goal was to do it by fiscal year 29. Part of that request was $500 in discretionary, which is what it looks like we’ll get in appropriations. But then an additional $1,250 in mandatory money, which it definitely looks like will not be on the agenda this year for Congress. So like you said, Terry, these are very good increases. Even the administration is pushing for more and more. We are certainly pushing alongside to see what we can do there, but the likelihood of doubling, at least in the near term, seems just out of reach.

So, Terry, we are at time. I want to thank you for all your valuable insights and comments. I also want to thank everyone for joining us today, submitting such great questions. I believe we’ll be having another Public Policy Pop-Up in December, schedule to be announced, topic to be announced. Keep an eye out for emails from ACE on that topic and identifying the date and time. And thank you again for joining us and enjoy the rest of your day.

Terry Hartle: Thank you.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we’re doing. You can also email us at podcast@acenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who help pull this podcast together: Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you for listening.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

Listen and Subscribe

Apple PodcastsSpotify  

Stitcher Google Play Music

Amazon Music 


Tell Us What You Think

Are you a regular dotEDU listener? Does it help you think through the policy issues that impact your campus? How can we make it better?


​​Connect ​With Us

​Tweet suggestions, links, and questions to @ACEducation or email podcast@acenet.edu.