Washington Update: What Will Happen Next?

What will happen next with mid-term elections in November?

Since February, much has happened in Washington, DC. Congress passed and the president signed the Omnibus budget bill, but now he wants to rescind several of those appropriations. Education and other domestic funding will be included in the rescission chopping block.

Just in the past week, we learned that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will not seek re-election to Congress, and thus the speakership is up for grabs; but more on this below.

Of note, numerous states have been shaken by teacher walkouts and challenges to education budgets and allocations in these states and several others. Is this contagious?

And of course, school safety has come front and center at the local, state, and federal level as a result of the recent shooting in Florida.

All of this and more are discussed below.

Appropriations and Budget: What is Next?
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), America’s deficit is rising sharply and will surpass $1 trillion a year by 2020, a gap that has grown since Congress cut taxes and increased spending. This increase is due to greater spending on social safety net programs and economic stimulus, as well as slumping tax receipts as the economy cratered. But the current deficit increases come amid steady economic growth and low unemployment, a time when many economists recommend paying down the deficit. The federal deficit will hit $804 billion during the current 2018 fiscal year, up 21 percent from 2017.

CBO reported that from 2021 to 2028, deficits would average 4.9 percent of the total American economy—higher than at any point since World War II, other than during the recession in 2008 and 2009.

To address this, Republicans proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The balanced budget amendment, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), would require Congress not to spend more than it brings in. It also would require a “true majority” in both the House and Senate to pass tax increases and a three-fifths majority in both chambers to increase the debt limit.

However, on April 11, House Republicans failed to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a vote that followed last month’s passage of a $1.3 trillion spending bill. The vote “fell far short of the requisite two-thirds majority needed for passage, with 233 lawmakers voting for it and 184 against it.”

“Passing a weak constitutional balanced budget amendment only four legislative days after ramming through massive deficit spending is quite an audacious stunt,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), who voted against the measure. “My colleagues have already demonstrated with the passage of the Omnibus that they aren’t serious about balancing the budget.” The amendment would have required Congress to balance the budget in five years, which could have led to tax hikes and massive cuts to entitlement spending.

As for a rescission package, the concern is that it would poison the well on all future spending talks, since Republicans negotiated with Democrats to draft the Omnibus budget bill. It’s unclear whether there is even enough Republican support for the plan in the Senate, especially if the proposal calls for slashing funding from popular spending programs. This idea is not likely to go very far in Congress; however, some skeptics are calling the moves nothing more than a gimmick designed to boost the party’s fiscal bona fides ahead of the midterm elections.

Trump has mentioned a rescission package to make cuts to some programmatic funding levels in 2018 Omnibus budget bill, with which the Trump administration strongly disagrees. The current talk is that the White House will drop a rescission package in the next few weeks. The cuts could be as much as $60 billion from the $1.3 trillion bill. It is expected the cuts will be from foreign aid and nondiscretionary domestic programs targeted in Trump’s budget blueprint. Now it is wait and see.

And while all of this is happening, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) aims to pass another massive tax cut this summer, which Republicans hope will rev up the GOP base and improve the standing of Republicans at the polls. “But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is under pressure to block a vote.

A Changing of the Guard in Congress
Over the past several months, shock waves have run through both the House and Senate as numerous members announced they are not running for re-election, or are retiring or running for another office. Several of these are chairs or high-ranking members of committees on both sides of the aisle. At the time of writing this article the number is about 50.

The biggest shock came when Paul Ryan announced he would not seek re-election. This means someone else will hold the Speaker’s gavel during the first session of the 116th Congress in January. For the Democrats to win back the majority in the House they need to win 23 seats in November.

Ryan has already endorsed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) to be his successor. But his is no shoe-in. It is likely to be a battle for the speakership. While the top two contenders are McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, there is opposition from the conservative House Freedom Caucus and others that they need to hit the reset button.

Similarly, if the Democrats control the House, there will most likely be a battle over who leads that caucus and become speaker. Nancy Pelosi has been sort of a lightning rod among some Democrats. If Pelosi bows out or loses, Joe Crowley (NY) will probably pounce at the opportunity.

Early-Decision Shenanigans by Some Colleges and Universities?
The Justice Department has started an investigation into whether some colleges’ early-decision admissions programs violate federal anti-trust laws through agreements among institutions or through the sharing of information about accepted applicants.

In the early 1990s, Ivy League schools agreed not to coordinate with one another regarding individual applicants, among other stipulations—a decision that came as the Justice Department said that a decades-old tradition of annual meetings to determine aid amounted to price-fixing.

This is the latest in a series of investigations the federal government has launched into higher-education admission practices in recent months.

The Justice Department sent letters to a number of colleges and universities recently asking that they preserve emails and other messages detailing agreements with other schools regarding their communications with one another about admitted students and how they might use that information. It isn’t clear how many schools received the letter.

Inside Higher Ed has an article describing what is involved and included in the letter.

Is There a New Teacher Movement for Pay and K–12 Funding?
It started in West Virginia, and then spread to Oklahoma and Kentucky. State legislatures were forced to address the issues of pay, pensions, and education funding or be confronted with more teacher walkouts. These demands for better pay, pensions, and increased funding for K–12 education have not ended. Several other states are being confronted with the same issues and protests.

A key question is What is contributing to these walkouts? Teachers in the U.S. are paid about 30 percent less than other comparably educated workers in the economy, and this gap is larger than most other industrialized countries. While low salaries are a major contributing factor to the recent teacher strikes across the country, there are other factors at play.

The majority of states have still not returned to pre-recession education funding levels. “Arizona is the worst hit, with 36 percent less in per-pupil spending now than pre-recession levels, but another 15 states where teacher actions have not yet materialized still have spending reductions of 10 per cent or more in place.

“Combining these salary reductions with increases in health insurance premiums and contributions to retirement benefits—both of which have fallen more on teachers’ shoulders over the last decade—means that most teachers have significantly less in take-home pay than they used to.”

Kentucky is no longer in play since Governor Bevin’s veto of the new state’s education funding package was overridden by the legislature.

Arizona teachers voted to go on strike beginning April 26 following three days of walk-ins. Of the 57,000 votes cast from school employees around the state, 78 percent voted "yes" for a strike. Who will be next?

Where Does HEA Reauthorization Stand?
Speaker Paul Ryan’s surprise announcement that he’s retiring comes as Congress deliberates a rewrite to the Higher Education Act. But already, the possibility that it would be done before the November midterm elections is looking dim.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-NC), the chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in a statement to POLITICO, praised Ryan’s record and expressed optimism. Foxx’s committee advanced a bill December 12, 2017, to update the law, dubbed the “PROSPER Act,” but a House floor vote has not been scheduled.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, chaired by Lamar Alexander and ranking minority member Patti Murray, are still working on its version.

School Safety Debate
If anything was difficult, this issue tops the list. Given all the school shootings over the last several years, including the most recent in Florida, there has been nary a successful effort with federal legislation.

After the most recent shooting several bills were offered in Congress. None have seen progress even with bipartisan sponsorship. Congressional leadership has shown little interest in moving any bill.

President Trump appointed Secretary DeVos to chair a committee on the topic, whose membership is made up of only selected cabinet members. Yes, there has been some outreach for ideas, but nothing concrete has been proposed.

Some states made an effort to pass legislation or provide guidance to school systems as to what they should do. individual districts have decided on their own policies within state law.

There is no silver bullet here. Some efforts have included strengthening onsite security, arming teachers, changing access rules and procedures, fencing around schools, and better mental health awareness.

On Friday, April 20, some 200,000 students from over 2,500 high schools across the nation walked out to prolong the gun safety protest and urge students to register to vote in November.

The debate continues with no end in sight.

What’s Next?
One issue not discussed, because it has just been argued before the Supreme Court, is that of taxing online purchases. States and local governmental entities have long argued this is a significant loss of revenue that could add funding to education. Now it is up to the Court to decide.

For the most part, much is a wait-and-see game on most of the issues discussed above. If I were to guess, Higher Education reauthorization has a good chance to be completed by December. However, we are now in the mid-term election season and very little can be predicted. A good deal is at stake and that election will be the focus for the next several months, except for a few critical issues such as rescissions if they are proposed.

And we will see if the president presents a rescission package and what Congress will do. Similarly, what will happen with the tax cut being proposed in the House.