Co-Sponsorship of the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act of 2017 (H.R. 4274)

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The current and outdated accreditation system administered by the U.S Department of Education (ED) creates a higher education cartel that locks out innovation and competition,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.***

“NO” on $16 Billion Bailout of National Flood Insurance Program

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:

  1. Necessary expenditure–an essential or vital expenditure, not one that is merely useful or beneficial;
  2. Sudden–quickly coming into being, not building up over time;
  3. Urgent–pressing and compelling need requiring immediate action;
  4. 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
  5. 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.***

“YES” ON THE RSC’S Budget: Securing America’s Future Economy

On Thursday, the House will vote on the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) Budget offered by the Republican Study Committee (RSC) as an amendment to the committee-approved FY18 budget resolution. The RSC’s Budget: Securing America’s Future Economy, introduced by RSC Budget and Spending Task Force Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), would balance in 2023, reduce non-defense discretionary spending, reestablish national defense spending to support the military, break the “firewall” between defense and nondefense discretionary spending, fully repeal and replace Obamacare, repeal Dodd-Frank by implementing the Financial CHOICE Act, reform entitlement programs, and finally, enact pro-growth tax reform. If passed, the RSC’s budget would give lawmakers a serious conservative blueprint for reform.

Pro-Growth Tax Reform. Republicans campaigned and promised to fix America’s broken tax code. The current code has become a significant obstacle to economic growth, job creation and higher wages for American workers. The RSC budget would fulfill the Republican campaign promise by enacting tax reform that cuts taxes for families, makes American businesses competitive around the globe, ends double taxation, and simplifies the code.  

Repealing Obamacare. Republicans owe their majorities to their unwavering opposition to Obamacare, a reality that is reflected in the RSC’s budget. The budget remains committed to fully repealing the law despite recent Republican failures, and sends a signal to the American people that conservatives will continue to push for free-market, patient-centered health care reforms.

Funding Defense. Although the Budget Control Act of 2011 has put significant pressure on our military, a conservative budget would align military spending with strategic priorities by breaking the firewall. The RSC’s budget does not rely on the much-discussed OCO gimmick, but increases defense spending to a total of $668 billion in FY18, which is $119 billion above the current defense cap. Importantly, that cost is offset by lowering non-defense discretionary spending to $394 billion in FY18, which is $122 billion below the cap.

Reforming Entitlements. The RSC’s budget maintains the Medicare premium support reforms, which are widely established and broadly supported. In addition, the budget lays down bold markers on Social Security, Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicaid. It takes a similarly aggressive approach on mandatory program spending like food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) by building on the success of the 1996 welfare reforms and enacting work requirements as outlined in the Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act (H.R. 2832/S. 1290) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act (H.R. 2996).   

Other important items in the budget include: Enacting the Financial CHOICE Act, eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), holding federal agencies accountable, reducing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), separating food stamps and farm programs, ending commodity subsidy programs, reforming crop insurance, ending unconstitutional amnesty for illegal immigrants, enforcing existing immigration laws, securing our borders, delegating elementary and secondary education to states and localities modeled after the Academic Partnership Leads us to Success (A-PLUS) Act, reforming Higher Education by passing the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act, eliminating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, returning transportation and infrastructure policy to the states, reorganizing the executive branch, and protecting the life of the unborn.

Taken as a whole, the RSC’s “Securing America’s Future Economy” demonstrates a seriousness of purpose when it comes to governing. If passed, this budget would provide a fiscally responsible path forward for our nation, limit the size and scope of our bloated federal government, and unleash economic prosperity for all Americans.  

***Heritage Action supports the RSC’s Blueprint for Securing America’s Future Economy and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.***

Related:
RSC Budget: Securing America’s Future Economy

“YES” ON PAIN-CAPABLE UNBORN CHILD PROTECTION ACT (H.R. 36)

This week, the House will vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36), introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). This legislation would protect unborn children by preventing abortions 20 weeks after conception, at which time scientific evidence suggests the child can feel pain. In 2015, a similar bill passed the House by a 242-184 vote.

In her report “Defending Life: Opportunities for the 115th Congress,” research associate in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation Melanie Israel writes:   

“Congress should pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect women and unborn children from gruesome late-term abortions performed after 20 weeks. The U.S. is one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortion past 20 weeks (5 months), at which point scientific evidence suggests that the baby is capable of feeling excruciating pain during an abortion procedure. A poll released in January 2017 found that 74 percent of Americans want abortion restricted to, at most, the first trimester. At the state level, over a dozen states across the country have enacted 20-week bills. Congress is overdue to pass the bill at the federal level.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that passing this bill could potentially save 10,000 lives each year—a number widely considered to be on the conservative side. As Rep. Franks has explained in sponsoring the bill, “More than 18,000 ‘very late term’ abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America,” explaining these lives are often taken “torturously.”

More than a dozen states have implemented similar legislation so far, and the time has come to protect the sanctity of life at the national level. Our representatives have a responsibility to push this debate into the political forefront. By refusing to shy away from tough votes and embracing the pro-life principles on which many were elected, members can save thousands of innocent lives. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy explained in the case of Stenberg v. Carhart, “The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb.”

This legislation should not represent an aberration on the congressional voting record, but rather should mark the beginning of a true fight on behalf of the unborn. Israel concludes in her report: “With pro-life majorities in the House and Senate, and a President who has committed to defend innocent life, Congress has the opportunity of a generation. Passing key pro-life legislation should be among the highest priorities in the 115th Congress.”

***Heritage Action supports H.R. 36 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.***

Related:
The Heritage Foundation: Defending Life: Opportunities for the 115th Congress (2017)
Heritage Action: Key Vote “YES” on 5-Month Abortion Ban (H.R. 36) (2015)

Amendments to House 2018 Omnibus Spending Package (H.R. 3354)

Heritage Action will key vote the following amendment(s) to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018 [Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018] (H.R. 3354).

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on McClintock Amendment to reduce funding for the Essential Air Service Program by $150 million (#85)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce funding for the Essential Air Services (EAS) program by $150 million and apply the savings to the spending reduction account.

The EAS program provides subsidies to commuter and regional airlines to increase service to rural airports that may not be economically viable absent federal subsidies. Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, specifically critiques the EAS program in his report on the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016:

“Furthermore, the bill maintains the wasteful Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes rural flights that are less than half full on average and often nearly empty. This inefficient program was originally intended to be temporary and subsidizes convenience for a small group of travelers at the expense of taxpayers and the overall aviation system. It should be eliminated.”

Conservatives have long sought to eliminate, reduce or otherwise reform the EAS program as it has outgrown its original purpose and continues to grow in cost. The Congressional Budget Office identified the program in its deficit reduction options report released in December. The Government Accountability Office recommended in its annual report on duplicative government programs that Congress pursue more efficient alternatives to EAS.

While the program should be eliminated altogether (and doing so on the mandatory side would save $299 million in FY 2018), the $150 million discretionary reduction proposed in the McClintock Amendment is a good first step to reduce spending on a program that has increased 600 percent since 1996. As lawmakers struggle to reduce America’s crushing debt and deficits, eliminating this subsidy should be an easy lift.

Heritage Action supports the McClintock Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Budd Amendment to eliminate a $900 million Amtrak ‘earmark’ between Newark and New York City (#83)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) to H.R. 3354, the  fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would eliminate $900 million in specifically designated spending contained in the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill that would go directly to the Gateway project – a $29.5 billion tunnel, bridge and infrastructure project intended to improve Amtrak’s passenger rail service between Newark and New York City. Partial funding for this project comes from eliminating the wasteful Obama-era Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

Including $900 million in an underlying appropriations bill to the benefit of two states is not the right way to fund our nation’s infrastructure projects. The Gateway project may deserve funding, but this should be done at the state and local level, or at the very least through a fair and open legislative process. The Trump administration agrees with this perspective. In its Statement of Policy on T-HUD, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) writes:

“The Administration appreciates that the bill supports the FY 2018 Budget request to eliminate funding for TIGER Grants, given that Federal funding should not be directed to projects with localized benefits that often do not rise to the level of national or regional significance.”   

By eliminating the TIGER grant program and the Gateway Project earmark, the Budd Amendment honors both the Trump administration’s position and the spirit of the six-year commitment to ban earmarks made by congressional Republicans. This amendment would transfer $474 million from the TIGER grant program toward deficit reduction. The rest of the $900 million earmark would go into the national New Starts Account rather than a single pet project, allowing projects around the country, including the Gateway project, to secure funding in a transparent way.

Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, issued the following statement:

“By eliminating the TIGER program and allocating the savings to deficit reduction, the Budd amendment will end federal funding of streetcars, pedestrian promenades, and countless other wasteful local projects, laudably allocating the savings not for more spending elsewhere (as is general practice), but to limit the fiscal burden on future generations. Furthermore, while the amendment could go further by reducing funding for Capital Investment Grants, ridding the bill of a questionably inserted earmark is good policy that will prevent the future Congressional malpractice of directing spending to politically favored projects.”

Heritage Action supports the Budd Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Grothman Amendment to reduce funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program by $266 million (#69)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by $266 million and apply the savings to the spending reduction account.

H.R. 3354 currently funds several project-based and tenant-based programs that are duplicative or inefficient, including $10 billion for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program, which the Grothman Amendment reasonably proposes to reduce by $266 million.

In its “Blueprint for Reorganization: An Analysis of Federal Departments and Agencies,” The Heritage Foundation recommends transferring housing assistance programs to the states to cut waste and better address the needs of local populations:

“Returning financial responsibility for subsidized housing programs to the states is appropriate because housing needs, availability, and costs vary significantly across states and localities, as do the levels of needed and available assistance. Instead of primarily federally funded programs that often provide substantial benefits for some while leaving others in similar circumstances with nothing, the federal government should begin transferring the responsibility for both the administration and costs of low-income housing programs to the states. States are better equipped to assess and meet the needs of their populations, given their unique economic climates and housing situations.”

State and local governments are simply better equipped to navigate local housing needs. The Grothman Amendment is consistent with the conservative principle of federalism and seeks to protect taxpayers by cutting wasteful programs. A dose of fiscal restraint in our current legislative environment deserves the support of all Republicans.  

Heritage Action supports the Grothman Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Norman Amendment to cut EPA funding (#64)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce total appropriations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by $1,869,087,000.

The cuts proposed in the Norman Amendment align with the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal for the EPA. Diana Katz, Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy, Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation wrote about the plan (which amounts to a “24 percent proposed cut to the EPA’s $8 billion budget”) shortly before its submission:

“In many respects, the need for an overhaul of the EPA has never been greater. The nation’s primary environmental statutes are woefully outdated and do not reflect current conditions. EPA officials routinely ignore regulatory costs, exaggerate benefits, and breach legislative and constitutional boundaries.”

The EPA is in a position to make this turnaround a reality. Heritage Action supported current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s nomination earlier this year. Pruitt and the Trump administration have already taken positive steps forward on the regulatory side, including rolling back an Obama administration overreach known as the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule.  

Nicolas Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy, Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at The Heritage Foundation summarized priorities on the funding side:

“Cutting the EPA’s budget does not mean a world of unchecked polluters and environmental degradation in America. Tightening the agency’s purse will rein in the EPA’s heavy-handed, unilateral reach into the economy.”

The Norman Amendment would help restore the EPA to its role as a regulatory agency, not an environmental left-wing activist organization.

Heritage Action supports the Norman Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Palmer Amendment to prohibit funding for D.C.’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (#33)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Reps. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would prohibit funding to implement the D.C. Reproductive Health Non Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA).

As Heritage Action previously noted following RHNDA’s passage, the D.C. law would force pro-life employers in the District of Columbia to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health plans. The D.C. city council later amended RHNDA to clarify that the language should “not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision.”

This clarification, however, is insufficient in addressing concerns because the act could still force religious and pro-life employers opposed to abortion to hire openly pro-choice employees. For private organizations to be required to hire someone with a viewpoint diametrically opposed to their core principles is a serious infringement on the right of free association.

The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy, and Sarah Torre, Visiting Fellow, Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, explain: “[r]ather than tinker with the legislation after the fact, the city should have never passed such a legally suspect law in the first place.”

RHNDA passed the D.C. city council in January of 2015. Following initial approval by the mayor, Heritage Action supported a congressional resolution of disapproval under the D.C. Home Rule to nullify the act. Despite passing the House, this push ultimately failed and the timeframe to outright nullify RHNDA under the Home Rule has since expired.

Fortunately, Congress remains within its constitutional authority to prohibit funding to implement RHNDA. This is exactly what the Palmer Amendment proposes. The Heritage Foundation explains:

“Congress has a special responsibility to protect the freedom of the people of the District of Columbia because of the power delegated to Congress by the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever over such District”. Congress should, therefore, displace the effects of RHNDA…by appropriate provisions in the federal DC Appropriations Act to the extent necessary to protect religious liberty and the exercise of conscience.”

Failure to act on RHNDA would further embolden D.C. city council’s extreme political agenda, which continues to threaten pro-life organizations based in the District of Columbia and the religious liberty of all Americans.

Heritage Action supports the Palmer Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Amendments relating to the Davis-Bacon Act and Project Labor Agreements

The Heritage Foundation has long opposed Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions, which “inflate federal construction costs by approximately 10 percent.” Similarly, Heritage notes that PLAs raise “the cost of public construction projects by 12 to 18 percent.” Heritage Action expects multiple amendments to suspend or otherwise eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act or Project Labor Agreements. Heritage Action encourages  lawmakers to support all those amendments and intends to add one Davis-Bacon vote and one PLA vote to the scorecard.