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What will the ratcheted up Congressional oversight on student financial aid look like?

Washington Update, September 6, 2019

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Dear Colleagues:

Happy September and back to school! It always feels like a fresh start this time of year - harkening back to the childhood excitement of new notebooks, pens and pencils, teachers and more. Of course, for today's students the excitement is probably more about new digital devices and Instagram postings. Washington comes back to life too; but rather than a fresh start, it is more about that unfinished homework that remains.

1. Money, Money Money... Follow the Money... to a Shutdown?

Congress does not officially reconvene until next Monday, September 9. They return to the challenge of funding the government before the end of the Fiscal year, September 30. This means that in 13 legislative days the Senate would have to pass 12 separate funding bills, conference each one with the House and then secure President Trump's signature on each one. What are the odds of that happening? Well, I'm not really a betting person, but I'd say "ZERO."

So where does that leave us? The strategy appears to be the same used last year. That is, to secure enactment of the two biggest funding bills - Labor/HHS/Education and Defense - together, in one package, as soon as possible. Since the Labor/HHS/Education bill is the most controversial (think amendments on immigration, abortion, gun violence), pairing it with Defense secures some votes that might not be otherwise available. That is, conservatives who are fans of big spending in defense might go along with a Labor/HHS/Education bill in order to ensure the defense spending. The strategy worked last year, thus enabling the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to continue working during the shutdown which affected so many other agencies.

The House left town in August having passed its funding bills, including a very generous one for Labor/HHS/Education. Educators were elated with the prospects of the funding levels in that bill. Unfortunately, the allocations -- called 302(b)'s -- for each of the 12 funding bills in the Senate are quite a bit less than they were in the House. So the Senate has less money to work with, particularly in the bill that funds education. Unfortunately, it looks like that House Labor/HHS/Education funding bill will serve as the high-water mark for education.

The Senate will begin its work on the 12 bills next week, with both the Labor/HHS/Education and Defense bills planned for markups in subcommittees on Tuesday, September 10. A few days later the full Senate Appropriations committee will likely take up those bills. Should they both be adopted by the Committee, they will likely move to the floor as a package as soon as possible. The chances of securing House agreement on the two Senate bills and then the President's signature by Sept. 30 is certainly a longshot. In all likelihood, the Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running at current levels of funding. In fact, the House has announced that it will take up a bill the week of September 16th to pass a CR that will keep the government open beyond September 30. The bill will not include any funding for President Trump's border wall, so whether the Senate will pass it and whether the President will sign it are open questions. A government shutdown remains a possibility.

2. September on Capitol Hill

Multiple hearings and markups will be held related to education during the 13 legislative days of September. All of these activities can be watched online by going to the website of the Committee listed below. These include:

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