With just five working weeks left before the end of the year, we are facing the threat of a partial government shutdown—not all agencies would close—as Republicans try to deliver on funding for President Trump's border wall as part of a final spending package for FY 2019. All sides must agree to a federal funding bill by Dec. 7, when a temporary spending measure ends. As it was last year at this time, immigration may be a lynchpin for securing an agreement.
The president spent weeks ahead of the midterm election stoking fears over a migrant caravan heading toward the border and promising voters that Republicans would bring tougher border security. House Republicans have already approved $5 billion for Trump's wall, down from earlier proposals of $23 billion. But in the Senate, where Republicans need Democratic support to prevent a filibuster, a bipartisan bill allocates $1.6 billion.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Of course, our main concern in this fight continues to be the fate of the Obama-era DACA policy, which shields some 700,000 young undocumented immigrants—many of them college students—from deportation.
The day before the election, the Trump administration took the unusual step of asking the U.S. Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and directly review lawsuits challenging the president’s 2017 repeal of DACA. Just a few days later, a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling blocking the Trump administration from ending DACA. That ruling means a nationwide injunction allowing DACA to continue will remain in effect—a welcome development but not enough, as I said in a statement and an op-ed in The Washington Post last week. At the end of the day, Congress and the president must work together to forge a permanent legislative solution on this issue, which is what we will be pushing for in the coming weeks.
116th Congress convenes in January: Looking ahead to the new Congress, we will be watching closely how the House Committee on Education and the Workforce takes shape. As Inside Higher Ed pointed out, committee Democrats have frequently complained about being shut out of Republican legislative efforts and not being heard by the Education Department. One of their priorities as the new majority party is likely to be holding the Trump administration accountable for what they view as a disastrous attempt to rewrite or kill regulations aimed at higher education. Among these attempts: an overhaul of the borrower defense rule (which allows defrauded students to seek loan forgiveness) and a repeal of the gainful employment rule (which holds higher education programs accountable for graduating students with debt they can’t repay); how the department has handled Public Service Loan Forgiveness claims; and changes to Title IX sexual assault (see below for more on that effort).
Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization: The main legislative effort on the higher education front is reauthorization of the HEA, which has been running on temporary extensions since it expired in 2015. Last December, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved the PROSPER Act, the Republican’s proposed HEA reauthorization bill, but it was controversial and not voted on by the full House because it lacked the votes to pass. We had a number of problems with that bill, but it is now dead. House Democrats introduced their version of HEA legislation in July, which we believe is a better start to the process and is likely to reappear as the starting point for a new bill. However, the Democratic bill is very expensive and heavy on regulation. In any event, without a bipartisan agreement with the Republican Senate, any progress on HEA is unlikely.