In lean year for colleges, measure would sustain key programs but provide few increases beyond biomedical research.
Legislation to cut billions in mandatory spending advanced in both chambers.
Republican leaders lack votes, for now, on budget package that would slash $14.3 billion from lenders and students.
To make the case for U.S. aid, higher ed groups tally cost of colleges' Katrina cleanup: over $2 billion.
Compromise spending bill would keep maximum Pell Grant at $4,050 and freeze most other student aid programs.
22 Republicans vote with Democrats on measure that college groups staunchly opposed, but alternatives are unpleasant.
Letter to lawmakers says reductions in student loan programs would hurt students and lenders alike, limiting access to college.
Justices seem inclined to uphold law that bars federal funds to campuses that restrict military recruiters.
Bills contain mostly bad tidings for colleges and students, especially on loans, but funds may surface for science grants and Katrina-damaged colleges.
A tumultuous day may only delay passage of budget and other bills that college groups generally dislike.
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