Congress Takes a Spring Break: No New HEA Bills

Publication Number 8 April 13, 2004

While the U. S. Congress takes its annual recess in April, work continues behind the scenes on the Higher Education Act (HEA). It appears that we could see serious accreditation legislation in late April or May in the House, and perhaps the Senate. But chances for completing a final new law in 2004 are receding. The HEA legislation that is unfinished in 2004 will be taken up by the new Congress in January 2005, following the elections.

The Senate adjourned on Thursday, April 9 without introducing any major proposals for the revised HEA. Members return April 19. Senator Judd Gregg, chair of the Senate panel handling HEA, told a private group in early April that he expected to introduce a bill containing his HEA proposals shortly. The adjournment means that no formal bill introductions can take place until the Senate returns. Senate staff members continue to work on a text for introduction.

On the House side, members adjourned on April 2 and return April 20. A major new HEA proposal from the House Republicans, including provisions on accreditation, has been expected for weeks. Staff members have been drafting language and consulting largely among themselves in anticipation of committee action on HEA.

Budgetary Considerations

The delay is based in part on Congressional 2005 budget deliberations which create a framework for the financial “scoring” of any bill with federal spending provisions, such as HEA. A member cannot introduce a bill authorizing spending until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issues an estimate of the federal cost. This estimate is known as “scoring.” The accreditation provisions are likely scored as zero because no new direct federal expenditures are required. But other HEA provisions like the cost of Pell Grants and student loan refinancing have major budget impact. All these spending provisions are expected in a large HEA bill.

House Republican Policy Overview

Before adjournment for the current Spring recess (formally labeled a “district work period”), the Republican leadership of the House Education and the Workforce Committee issued a summary of its 2004 work to date and its plans for the rest of the year. It is headed: House GOP Resource Kit – Spring 2004 District Work Period, and subtitled: “Strengthening American Education & Protecting America’s Workers.”

The multi-part kit includes labor and education issues, with most of the latter on the federal school reform program, No Child Left Behind. There are some general principles on HEA about access and more information, including “strengthening the accreditation process by opening it up to the public.” The kit lays out general ideas of the GOP blueprint for education and workforce issues in anticipation of the upcoming elections. It breaks no new ground, but signals themes for both legislative and campaign purposes.