The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday that would raise the value of the maximum Pell Grant for the first time since 2002 and increase spending for several key academic research programs. Dozens of Republicans joined all but two Democrats in voting for House Joint Resolution 20, which would finance the operations of much of the federal government through the rest of the 2007 fiscal year, which began in October.
The legislation, which Democratic leaders unveiled Monday night, prompted significant debate on the House floor, as Republicans complained that Democrats had structured the vote in a way that did not allow the bill to be amended. Many Republican lawmakers -- and the White House -- also criticized some of the choices Democrats had made in crafting the legislation.
But the strong vote (a margin of 286 to 140), and the fact that the Bush administration's criticism of the bill stopped short of threatening a veto, suggested that the legislation is likely to win Senate support next week and ultimately earn President Bush's signature. Failure to pass the bill by February 15 could result in a shutdown of the federal government, which most political observers see as not being in either party's interests.
Higher education leaders offered only slightly qualified praise for the House-passed measure, which will increase the maximum Pell Grant by $260, to a total of $4,310, and increase spending on the National Institutes of Health by 2 percent and the National Science Foundation's research office by about 8 percent.
“Over the past few years, public policy has shortchanged need-based financial assistance. This action is a significant step towards reversing the policies that have adversely affected students from low-income families,” Constantine W. Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said in a statement. “AASCU commends the House of Representatives for this long overdue increase in Pell Grant funding and for recognizing that the playing field for America’s financially disadvantaged students needs to be leveled.”
“It is a great day for science, for the country, and for the American people,” said Leo Furcht, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “On behalf of the biomedical research community, FASEB is immensely grateful for this reaffirmation of Congressional support for scientific research and the potential it provides to improve the quality of our lives.”
As the 2007 spending measure headed for apparent passage, FASEB was among higher ed groups looking ahead as well. The research advocacy group released recommendations for science funding in the 2008 fiscal year, with an eye toward financial "sustainability," said Furcht.
Among FASEB’s recommendations for 2008:
- Fund the National Institutes of Health at a level that will set the agency on a 3-year track to recover losses caused by inflation in the field.
- Appropriate $6.5 billion for the National Science Foundation.
- Fund the US Department of Agriculture’s National Research Initiative at $248 million and the Agriculture Research Service at $1.38 billion.
- Increase appropriations by $39.5 million for NASA’s biological research.
- Fund the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to at least $4.37 billion.
- Appropriate $480 million for the Veteran’s Affairs Medical and Prosthetics Research Program.