Washington and Social Science: Evidence-Based Policy Bill Advances

The House and Senate approved their respective versions of a tax reform package (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). The House also approved the Protecting Seniors Access to Medicare Act, the Community Health and Medical Professionals Improve Our Nation Act, and the 21st Century Flood Reform Act. The House and Senate also cleared the final House-Senate conference report to the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

House and Senate Approve Different Tax Bills…Now, the Hard Part

On November 16, House voted to approve the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (H.R. 1), the Majority’s proposal to overhaul and simplify the federal tax code. Late at night on December 1, the Senate voted 51-49 to approve their version of the tax bill. Both chambers significantly altered their bills to secure support from skeptical Republicans, and ultimately the Republican leadership in both chambers succeeded in passing the bills without any Democratic votes.

Now the hard part…reconciling two very different bills into one unified package that can pass both the House and the Senate. During the week of December 4, House and Senate leaders launched conference negotiations on the tax package, and it is their hope that a final bill can be sent to the president before Christmas.

Both House and Senate bills have garnered significant opposition from many sectors of American society, including higher education and science. The House bill includes a repeal of the income exclusion for graduate tuition waivers, which would subject thousands of graduate students to increased taxes. The House version would also repeal an Internal Revenue Service rule that allows employers to offer tax-free paid assistantships to graduate students and end deductions for student loan interest payments. The Senate bill does not include these provisions, but does include other provisions directly affecting college and university endowments.

Another overarching concern about both tax bills is that they add $1.5 trillion to the national debt. If enacted, this will only augment the budgetary pressure to cut federal investments in higher education, including student loan programs, and federal research programs at the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

No Progress on Budget Talks, and a Government Shutdown Looms

Meanwhile, the federal government has been operating under a “continuing resolution” that is scheduled to expire midnight on December 21.  Despite agreement on both sides of the aisle that budget caps should be lifted for both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, there is no agreement on how much spending should be allocated to these budget categories.  There is also significant disagreement on the extent that other non-budgetary issues, such as immigration and health insurance stabilization, should be addressed in a final budget bill.

House approves Evidence-Based Policymaking bill

On November 15, the House by voice vote unceremoniously approved the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (H.R. 4174). Introduced by the speaker of the House, Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, on October 31, this legislation would implement many of the recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, which issued its final report on September 7. The bill would seek to establish a more secure, transparent, and efficient data system that will help federal agencies better assess the effectiveness of their programs. It also includes provisions of the OPEN Government Act, which seeks to the maximum extent to make government data open and accessible to the public, while protecting privacy.

After House passage, the bill was sent to the Senate and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. There is no indication of when this committee will consider the bill or its Senate equivalent (S. 2046) introduced by Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington.

In the News…

“How the Tax Bills Would Hit Higher Ed”Inside Higher Education

“Opinion: Science That Leads” (Op-ed by Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas) | Roll Call

“U.S. Science Gender Gap Unpicked” | Nature

“Science Has Made America Great” | Scientific American

“Lamar Smith, the departing head of the House science panel, will leave a controversial and complicated legacy” | Science

Monkey Cage: “Elephants are in danger. Our research could help save them” | Washington Post

Late Night Quotable

Los Angeles apparently will be one of the first cities to get flying Ubers. L.A. is perfect, because who is more qualified to fly you through the sky at 5,000 feet than an out-of-work actor-deejay-dog walker?

James Corden, November 9

Time Magazine has published a short list of nominees for Person of the Year, and it includes Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, and Robert Mueller. If it’s a three-way tie, that’s going to be one awkward photo shoot.

Conan O’Brien, December 6

According to a new poll, 71 percent of American men believe they face pressure to act interested in sports. “Not us!” said the New York Giants.

Seth Myers, December 5

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Mark Vieth

Mark Vieth is a senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Before that, Vieth was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as chief of staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania.

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