December 14, 2022

Podcast - Both Sides of the Aisle: Education Policy Agenda in the 118th Congress

Eyes on Washington Podcast Series, Post-Election Special Series
Lauren Maddox and Shawna Watley

In this post-election special edition episode of our Public Policy & Regulation Group's "The Eyes on Washington" podcast series, Senior Policy Advisors Lauren Maddox and Shawna Watley discuss the future of education policy following the midterm elections. With the Republicans gaining control in the House, Ms. Maddox outlines who is expected to lead the Committee on Education and Labor and what key agenda items will be a focus for the party. She also explains the ways in which the shift in power may affect how the Committee functions. Ms. Watley follows up with an update from the Democratic perspective, as that party will maintain control in the Senate. She discusses key pieces of legislation that will remain top of mind for Democrats, including student loan reform and forgiveness, funding for the CHIPS Act and grant opportunities for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). They conclude their conversation by highlighting where Republican and Democrat priorities overlap and where bipartisan progress can be made in the 118th Congress. 

*Please note: information regarding Congresswoman Virginia Foxx's waiver has changed since the time of recording. 

More Episodes in this Series

Episode 1: A Conversation with Geoff Burgan, Communications Director for the Democratic Attorneys General Association

Episode 2: Don't Let Your Monkeys Become Gorillas: Congressional Oversight Post-Midterms

Episode 3: Let's Get Fiscal: Election Impacts on Tax Code

Episode 4: Election Impacts on DOE Funding, Clean Tech Legislation and Energy Innovation

Episode 5: Both Sides of the Aisle: Education Policy Agenda in the 118th Congress (You are currently viewing Episode 5)

Episode 6: COP27 in Review: It Takes a Village

Episode 7: An Update on the General Energy and Climate Legislative Landscape

Episode 8: A Post-Election Checkup: FDA Policy and Regulation

Episode 9: Where to Next? Transportation and Infrastructure Priorities in the 118th Congress


Podcast Transcript

Lauren Maddox: Hey, everybody, welcome back to Eyes on Washington at Holland & Knight, and I'm Lauren Maddox, here with one of my favorite colleagues, Shawna Watley. And we're going to talk education. Hey, Shawna.

Shawna Watley: Hey, Lauren. So good to see you. Excited about what we're going to be talking about today.

Key Republican Players and Agenda Items Regarding Education Policy

Lauren Maddox: Terrific. So I'm going to cover the Republicans, and you'll cover the Democrats. And so why don't I just kick it off? Of course the midterm elections, I think probably the biggest shift, of course, is the House will be run by the Republicans. It'll be a slight margin, but they'll have control. And the question is, what happens on the Education and Labor Committee? Who's going to run it? What are going to be the kind of key agenda items? And so let me just start with who is going to head up the committee. So, I guess that's still an open question. So, the current top Republican who served as ranking member the last couple of years has been Virginia Foxx, from North Carolina. And because Republicans term limit their top Republican posts on every committee, she's reached her limit and she is seeking a waiver. Whether or not she gets that waiver is still in question.* But regardless, I think she'll continue to be a force on the committee. In particular, she's raised a lot of concerns about how the Department of Education is implementing some of the programs that Congress has passed in prior Higher Education Act reauthorizations., For example, public service loan forgiveness and also just a lot of the student loan borrower relief. I think she's had a lot of questions for the department, and she'll have a new platform — or whoever the top Republican is, will have a platform — to sort of raise questions with senior officials at the department and ask for, you know, further explanations about their priorities and that sort of thing.

I think [Congresswoman Virginia Foxx] will continue to be a force on the committee. In particular, she's raised a lot of concerns about how the Department of Education is implementing some of the programs that Congress has passed in prior Higher Education Act reauthorizations., For example, public service loan forgiveness and also just a lot of the student loan borrower relief.

So, another big area they're going to focus on, of course, is oversight. That has not been a huge part of the agenda because, you know, it's the Democratic-controlled Congress in a Democratic administration. But they'll kick up the volume on oversight for sure, and so you'll see a lot more of that. In terms of big reauthorization bills, I think they've talked about Higher Education Act being reauthorized. It hasn't been reauthorized since 2008. It was eligible in 2013, but there really isn't huge demand for it at the moment. Both the Democrats and Republicans have tried in the past to reauthorize, and they have not been successful. I think an area where there could be bipartisan support is with the WIOA act, or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. I think there's sort of bipartisan support in talking to some of the Republicans. I think there is some sense they'd like to sort of marry those two bills in some respects, in the sense that they should be more aligned, not really marry them into one bill, but just be more aligned in terms of sort of where they hope to go. So we'll see a little bit of focus on that. So, that would be the House, and then the Senate, I'll just say there's going to be a new chair and ranking member on the Senate Health Committee. On the Republican side, it is most likely going to be Senator Bill Cassidy, a physician from Louisiana, who will be the top Republican. In terms of education, a big priority of his has always been a focus on dyslexia. And so I think he has talked about releasing sort of a more robust agenda. And so we'll know more about that. Also, of course, being a physician, healthcare is a big issue for him, and he's very focused on sort of the details of health policy. And I think Senator Bernie Sanders then, I think, is likely to take the helm there, but I'll let you talk about sort of his agenda and that sort of thing on education. But let me just stop there and Shawna, just turn it over to you.

Another big area they're going to focus on, of course, is oversight. That has not been a huge part of the agenda because, you know, it's the Democratic-controlled Congress in a Democratic administration. But they'll kick up the volume on oversight for sure, and so you'll see a lot more of that.

Key Democratic Players and Agenda Items Regarding Education Policy

Shawna Watley: Well, thanks, Lauren. As Lauren stated, the Senate and the House is split, and so the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate and the Republicans will have control of the House. So, passing any legislation may be challenging, but there's a chance that they might be able to get something through. As Lauren stated, there's going to be new leadership. And so that means on the Democratic side, Congressman Scott, who has been the chair, who is currently the chair of the Education Committee, could potentially still be the chair, but the Democrats, what we're hearing on the street is that they're actually mulling over maybe term limits for chairmanships. So we'll see what comes out of that with the new leadership. So it's an exciting time to be in Washington, and we'll certainly be busy getting to know all the new leadership and the new staff. But as far as higher education priorities on the Democratic side, as we all know, the Democrats have championed student loan reform, doubling of maximum Pell Grants, and are likely to continue to push those policies. We'll see how they'll be able to work with Republicans on those issues. But if the previous, if the 117th Congress has any indication of what the agenda will be, then we'll be looking at Pell Grant increases again. We'll be looking at student loan reform again, because those have been at the top of the list for most Democrats in the House and Senate. Lauren stated that Senator Bernie Sanders will most likely be the new chair in the Senate. And as we know, he is a huge proponent of free college tuition, free community college. So we'll see how he moves forward in pushing his agenda and some of the policy and bills that he has been a huge champion for over the last two years. And the Biden Administration will continue to carry out its student loan forgiveness program. Some advocates are pushing the administration to extend the pause on student loan repayment. So we'll see how that goes. And then Representative Bobby Scott, he also had introduced in September the Lowering Obstacles to Achievement Now Act, which stands for LOAN Act. The LOAN Act would double the federal Pell Grant by increasing the maximum award for a five-year period to $13,000. And then also Representative Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the House Committee of Appropriations, she had introduced the Affordable Loans for Any Student Act. So these are just some of the pieces of legislation that we will probably see reintroduced in the 118th and gives us an indication of what the agenda will be moving forward on the Democratic side. And there are, of course, there were multiple bills that talked about maximum Pell Grant Award, and also there was the Pell Grant Sustainability Act and then the legislation that currently includes the Degrees Not Debt Act of 2022. So I can't foresee that there will be any changes there as far as priorities.

It's an exciting time to be in Washington, and we'll certainly be busy getting to know all the new leadership and the new staff. But as far as higher education priorities on the Democratic side, as we all know, the Democrats have championed student loan reform, doubling of maximum Pell Grants, and are likely to continue to push those policies. We'll see how they'll be able to work with Republicans on those issues.

One of the other things that I wanted to highlight —  and Lauren, and I'm sure you've been following this as well, because it was such a huge win on both sides of the aisle — the CHIPS Act. And there were so many provisions related to higher education in that piece of legislation, and I'm certain that will be a part of the Biden Administration and members in the House and in the Senate making sure that that piece of legislation is funded at the ultimate levels. And so I'm excited to see that there were so many folks on both sides of the aisle that really supported that legislation. And then there was a letter that just went out from Senator Cantwell, and it was a bipartisan letter encouraging the appropriators to fully fund the CHIPS Act. And so hopefully we will see some of our higher education institutions that we work with that can benefit from just, for instance, the National Science Foundation, Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnership Program, and then as well as the National Science Foundation Research and Workforce Development efforts, there's just so many opportunities for higher education than just that piece of legislation that everyone should be able to take full advantage of. And so I wanted to highlight that because that will be, it should be a priority for higher education institutions in the 118th. The only other thing that I wanted to also include in our little update here is for HBCUs. You know, as we both know, they're historically underfunded. They've had years of maintenance issues and not being able to build to capacity. And so Congresswoman Adams, who is the chair of the HBCU caucus, who worked so hard on behalf of HBCUs over the last two years, is making some progress in a bipartisan way. As you know, that caucus is bipartisan and the Democrats and Republicans have come together and the tri-caucus have come together to see if they can get some of those primary provisions in the IGNITEs Act included in the omnibus. So we're going to be following that very closely because if that does happen, there will be another stream of funds available, grant opportunities for HBCUs to deal with maintenance to build out stronger research facilities and also dorms and student activity centers. So we're excited about that, and we'll follow that closely.

Congresswoman Adams, who is the chair of the HBCU caucus, who worked so hard on behalf of HBCUs over the last two years, is making some progress in a bipartisan way. As you know, that caucus is bipartisan and the Democrats and Republicans have come together and the tri-caucus have come together to see if they can get some of those primary provisions in the IGNITEs Act included in the omnibus.

What Will be Finalized Before the New Congress

Lauren Maddox: I mean, you mentioned funding, and of course, the current continuing resolution that's been keeping the government open and operating expires on December 16. So I'm sure December is going to be busy, busy month here in Washington. As you know, the House and Senate really look at funding levels and where to put dollars in the FY23 budget. So, and then of course, a new budget cycle begins shortly thereafter. And so again, that's sort of, appropriations has been an area of bipartisan support, largely. So we're hopeful, but they have a lot of work to do before they can get that done. I think in December, we'll see if they kick the can into the new year, but hopefully they'll resolve their issues in the next couple of weeks. What do you think about that? Do you think they'll get it done before the holidays?

Shawna Watley: I do. I'm very positive that they're going to get this done. I think with Senator Shelby, who's been a champion and ranking in the Senate on appropriations, and then Senator Leahy, who is the chairman of Senate Appropriations, I think they work really well together. I think they both would like to see their final bills passed as they will be leaving the Congress. And so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to see finalization of the omnibus bill before the new Congress, because, as you know, if they don't get it done, we've also worked really hard to help our clients get community-funded projects included in the omnibus bills and appropriations bills. And if that doesn't happen, then we lose all of those projects. We'll have to start from scratch in the 118th. So I think there's a lot of interest on both sides to make sure that we get this funded and that also includes all the other priorities that the Congress would like to get done before the holidays.

I'm very positive that they're going to get this done. I think with Senator Shelby, who's been a champion and ranking in the Senate on appropriations, and then Senator Leahy, who is the chairman of Senate Appropriations, I think they work really well together. I think they both would like to see their final bills passed as they will be leaving the Congress.

Bipartisanship in Education Policy

Lauren Maddox: Yeah. And of course, as you know, in the 118th, as you noted, you've got two retiring: the chair and the ranking members on Senate Appropriations, and you're going to have two new members. Of course, Senator Patty Murray, who has been at the helm of the Senate Education Committee, and then Susan Collins, who has also served on the committee with her for a number of years. So I think hopefully that bipartisanship that you just referenced between Senator Shelby and Leahy over the years will continue on. And, you know, the Education and Labor departments, etc., HHS, which is the bill that we typically watch for our programs, will be funded and our clients will be happy with the outcome there.

I think hopefully that bipartisanship that you just referenced between Senator Shelby and Leahy over the years will continue on.

Shawna Watley: I would agree with you wholeheartedly. And it's interesting as I've been talking to folks and just checking in on the Democratic side, you know, they haven't done anything recently with the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, and it wasn't really, it wasn't top of mind when we're talking to folks. So it'll be interesting to see how that moves forward under the Republican leadership.

Lauren Maddox: Yeah. And then, of course, as you noted on the administration, we're watching, you know, the sort of regulation advance in the higher ed space. And they've put out a couple of big packages before the November 1, sort of deadline. And they've got, you know, additional regulation coming down the pike, including on gainful employment early in the new year. So I think that will continue to be a focus, in particular of the higher ed team over the Department of Education. So we're going to be watching that very closely as well.

Shawna Watley: Absolutely. I think, you know, we'll definitely have our hands full. Higher education and education will continue to be a top priority in both parties. So I'm just excited to see what kind of progress we can make together.

Lauren Maddox: Exactly. Exactly.

Shawna Watley: Well, I think that's it. But thanks so much, everyone, for joining us this afternoon on our higher education update podcast, and we look forward to working with you all in the 118th.

Lauren Maddox: Thanks, everybody.

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