(Largely) Shunning White House on Higher Ed Spending

In draft bill, House Republicans reject administration plan to slash research reimbursements, propose increased spending on NIH and college prep programs, and sustain AmeriCorps. Panel would take $3.3 billion from Pell surplus.

July 13, 2017
 
Tom Cole, chairman of the House panel

The Trump administration's first budget proposal was greeted coolly by Republican lawmakers (amid deep consternation from advocates for higher education) when it was released in May. Many members of Congress avoided direct criticism but suggested they would not go along with major cuts in popular programs, including a plan to slash the rates at which the government reimburses universities for their own spending on research overhead.

Wednesday President Trump's party offered a more direct rebuke, as the appropriations panel in the House of Representatives released a 2018 spending bill that rejects most of the administration's proposed changes.

Although the legislation is just the first step in what is likely to be a long (and potentially contentious) process of setting federal spending for the fiscal year that begins in October, the mark laid down by the Republicans who control the House clearly suggests that the draconian cuts the administration envisioned will not come to pass.

The legislation, which a subcommittee is scheduled to consider Thursday, would lower overall spending on the education, labor and health programs covered by the bill. But protecting most major programs important to higher education, it would:

  • Specifically bar the National Institutes of Health from changing how it reimburses research institutions for their indirect costs.
  • Increase spending on the NIH by $1.1 billion, instead of the nearly 20 percent cut suggested in the administration's budget.
  • Keep the maximum Pell Grant at $5,920, but take $3.3 billion of the program's $8.5 billion surplus to further the panel's goal of cutting government spending.
  • Sustain level funding for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Program and the Federal Work-Study Program. The Trump budget proposed eliminating the former and gutting the latter.
  • Lift (rather than decrease) spending on both the TRIO and GEAR UP programs that help first-generation students prepare for college. The TRIO program would receive a total of $1.01 billion, up $60 million from 2017, and GEAR UP would receive a $10 million boost, to $350 million. The White House had proposed $808 million and $219 million, respectively.
  • Fund the Corporation for National and Community Service at $1 billion, the same as in 2017, which would presumably sustain the AmeriCorps national service program, which the administration's budget would have killed.

"For a third consecutive year, it allocates a significant funding increase of $1.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which will benefit a wide range of biomedical programs," Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Related Agencies, said in a news release about the bill.

"In rejecting the proposal to dramatically slash federal funding for facilities and administrative expenses, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies made it clear that it recognizes these are actual research costs universities incur," Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said in a prepared statement.

Advocates for students criticized the proposed rescission of the Pell program's surplus, which they noted would come on top of $1.3 billion redirected for the 2017 fiscal year. "This $3.3 billion cut is the equivalent of the average Pell Grant award for nearly 900,000 students -- more than the number of Pell Grant recipients attending college in Texas, Pennsylvania and Iowa combined," Jessica Thompson, policy and research director at the Institute for College Access and Success, said in a statement.

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