This week, the House will vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 4712), introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). This legislation requires that appropriate medical care be given to any child who survived an attempted abortion, and establishes criminal penalties for health care practitioners that violate this requirement (the mother of a child born alive may not be prosecuted) and a civil right of action to enforce the law.
Later today, the House will vote on an $81 billion disaster recovery package (H.R. 4667) intended to help recovery efforts stemming from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate, and immediate relief for those fighting wildfires across California and other western states.
This week, the House and Senate will vote on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), the most significant tax reform and tax cut legislative initiative since the 1986 tax reform package passed under President Ronald Reagan. The bill would make sweeping changes to the individual and corporate codes, and eliminate Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty.
The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act (H.R. 4274), introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), would empower states with the option to develop their own systems of accrediting colleges and universities, individual courses and curricula, and apprenticeship programs. The HERO Act would decouple federal financing from accreditation so that federal dollars follow the student, not the institution, unleashing new and innovative approaches to higher education in the 21st century economy.
The bill would also increase transparency in participating institutions by requiring key student loan data reporting while also holding institutions partly accountable for student loan defaults. Finally, the HERO Act would better steward taxpayer dollars and increase accountability in future student loan decisions by phasing out federal loan forgiveness and repayment programs.
The current and outdated accreditation system administered by the U.S Department of Education (ED) creates a higher education cartel that locks out innovation and competition, resulting in higher costs and less choice for students and their families. Lindsey Burke, Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, describes the damaging effects of accreditation in her 2012 report Accreditation: Removing the Barrier to Higher Education Reform:
“With regard to colleges and universities, accreditation has become, first and foremost, a barrier to entry. Indeed, the accreditation system has morphed into a powerful and rigid system whereby a few large regional and national accrediting agencies have a tremendous amount of power over higher education. This system, in turn, creates massive and expensive headaches for existing colleges and universities; crowds out new higher education start-ups; and creates an inflexible and questionable college experience for students who, in order to be eligible for federal student aid, have little choice but to attend accredited institutions.”
Acknowledging this higher education monopoly and its effect on the current U.S. worker’s skills gap, Rep. DeSantis writes:
“In today’s economy, Americans need access to skills that current colleges are not providing at affordable prices. In the tradition of America’s proud history of innovation, I believe Congress should welcome a free marketplace that offers bold post-secondary education options. Students should be able to obtain education in a variety of environments–on campus and online, in classrooms and offices, with traditional courses and alternatives.”
The HERO Act would allow states to work with a variety of educational institutions, nonprofits, and even businesses to accredit high-quality alternative education programs and individual courses so students are equipped with directly applicable skillsets employers are looking for and our global competitive workforce demands. Heritage Foundation policy analysts Jamie Hall and Mary Clare Amselem make the case for higher education reform clear:
“With outstanding student loan debt now exceeding $1.4 trillion and another $1.3 trillion in new federal student loans expected to be originated in the next 10 years students and taxpayers have much to gain from accreditation reforms that increase learning options and lower costs.”
Any changes to the Higher Education Act of 1965 should incorporate the much-needed reforms outlined in the HERO Act.
***Heritage Action supports the HERO Act (H.R. 4274) and will include CO-SPONSORSHIP of this legislation in our scorecard.***
On Thursday, the House will vote on the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act of 2017, a $36.5 billion disaster aid package intended to provide emergency relief funding for victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate, and for those fighting wildfires across California and other western states. The bill includes $18.67 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DFR) — $4.9 billion of which could be used to subsidize direct loans to Puerto Rico and are unlikely to be repaid — $576.5 million for federal wildfire suppression, and a $16 billion bailout of the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) nearly $30 billion debt.
In the official disaster supplemental request to Congress, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney writes that “the NFIP required immediate financial relief to fulfill its obligations to its policyholders, but the program must also be reformed to place it on a sound financial footing and to enable the private market for flood insurance to expand.” OMB also argued the NFIP’s debt cancellation stems from “unforeseen, unanticipated events … it should be provided as an emergency requirement for budgetary purposes.” Heritage Action critiqued the request in a statement last week from vice president Dan Holler:
“The administration’s request to treat a $16 billion bailout for the failing federal flood insurance program as an emergency is irresponsible. There have been numerous efforts over the past decade to make the NFIP financially and structurally sound, but special interest pushback successfully blunted serious reforms. Put another way, the NFIP’s existing debt stems from poor design and congressional inaction, not an unforeseen crisis.
“If the administration and congressional leaders want to write off the NFIP’s debt it should be paid for and tied with the reforms similar to those recommended by Director Mulvaney. Anything short of that is simply a taxpayer bailout of a failed, big-government program and a victory for the special interests.”
The Heritage Foundation explained last month that emergency spending must meet five criteria: Necessary, sudden, urgent, unforeseen, and not permanent. The five-part test was first created by President George H.W. Bush’s OMB in 1991. In a report to Congress, as required by P.L. 102-55 (June 1991), OMB defined emergency spending as the following:
- Necessary expenditure–an essential or vital expenditure, not one that is merely useful or beneficial;
- Sudden–quickly coming into being, not building up over time;
- Urgent–pressing and compelling need requiring immediate action;
- Unforeseen–not predictable or seen beforehand as a coming need (an emergency that is part of an aggregate level of anticipated emergencies, particularly when normally estimated in advance, would not be “unforeseen”); and
- Not permanent–the need is temporary in nature.
The $16 billion bailout, which the legislation notes will be “treated as public debt of the United States,” fails the five-part test multiple times. The NFIP’s debt obviously built up over time and bailouts are by definition permanent in nature. Some lawmakers have raised concerns that additional bailouts are forthcoming because the bill waives the Stafford Act and allows “the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury” to cancel debts “in whole or in part” at their discretion.
Federal relief to victims of hurricanes is warranted, but Congress must act in a fiscally responsible manner by offsetting funding that is not truly “emergency” in nature. As Heritage Action made clear in September, “Any funds that fall outside the strict definition of ‘emergency spending’ should, such as the reported inclusion of small business loans, be offset.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) unveiled “Operation Offset,” which was essentially a menu of spending cuts to offset the costs of disaster relief and rebuilding efforts. The Heritage Foundation applauded the effort, writing that “The President and Congress are making huge federal commitments for relief and rebuilding, but these should not translate into an unprecedented expansion of the federal budget at a time when spending is already near an all-time high.”
Unfortunately, lawmakers will not be allowed to offer offsets or reforms because the bill will likely be voted on under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds vote. Regardless, The Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017 and Blueprint for Reform: A Comprehensive Policy Agenda offer dozens of offset options should lawmakers wish to revive Operation Offset. More spending is likely on the way, Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) made clear “This isn’t the last supplemental.”
***Heritage Action opposes the $16 Billion Bailout of National Flood Insurance Program and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.***