Legislative Activity

On Tuesday, February 7, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing titled “Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Education” to examine the current policy issues in higher education. Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), as well as her Senate counterpart Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), have indicated reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) will be a top priority in the 115th Congress.

Members questioned the panel on college affordability and student debt, Pell Grants, regulatory burden placed on institutions of higher education, career and technical education (CTE), the role of data in higher education, and simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Dr. William Kirwan, co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Federal Regulation on Higher Education, explained how excessive federal regulations create costs for college and universities, which are then passed down to students and their families. While recognizing the important role these rules play, his task force identified 59 regulations that can be streamlined or eliminated to help curb costs. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the committee, recommended a follow up hearing on the regulations identified by Dr. Kirwan and solutions to reducing the burden they place on schools.

On the subject of affordability, Dr. Beth Akers emphasized the importance of simplifying the FAFSA and restructuring student loan repayment to an income based model. Republicans and Democrats both supported these proposals and Sen. Alexander has been a strong advocate of simplifying FAFSA to increase accessibility to higher education. Panelists also recommended restoring the year-round Pell Grant program to allow low-income and non-traditional students to earn credits over the summer to finish school sooner and with less debt. This provision was included with strong bipartisan support in the Senate version of the Labor-Health and Human Services- Education appropriations bill in the 114th Congress but was ultimately stripped from the House version.

This hearing served as a starting point for the discussion surrounding the HEA rewrite and is expected to continue as the Committees work toward a bipartisan reauthorization package.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Wednesday, February 15, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hold a hearing titled, “Providing Vulnerable Youth the Hope of a Brighter Future Through Juvenile Justice Reform.”
  • On Thursday, February 16, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hold a hearing titled,
    “Federal Wage and Hour Policies in the Twenty-First Century Economy”
  • On Thursday, February 16, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a confirmation for Andy Puzder, President Trump’s selection to head the Department of Labor.

Regulatory Activity

Department of Labor Nominee Confirmation Hearing Scheduled for This Week

Following several delays, the Senate HELP Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, February 16 on President Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder. Mr. Puzder has been CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. for 16 years and served as an advisor during President Trump’s campaign.

Rumors have been circulated that the delays in scheduling a confirmation hearing were due to Mr. Puzder’s reluctance to serve as Secretary, but Republicans have said he has had to settle potential conflicts of interest with personal holdings in CKE Restaurants and submit a financial disclosure before the process could move forward.

Mr. Puzder is expected to face strong opposition from Democrats during his hearing and throughout his confirmation because of his strong conservative beliefs, actions during his tenure as CEO of CKE Restaurants, and alleged personal issues including his recent divorce and questions surrounding an undocumented housekeeper he employed.