In 2014 Budgets, Republicans and Democrats Offer Competing Plans for Academe

March 12, 2013

[Updated (3/12/2013, 5:32 p.m.) with details on the Senate Democrats' spending bill for 2013 and Senator Harkin's proposed amendment to it.]

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled on Tuesday a budget blueprint for the 2014 fiscal year that would tighten eligibility for federal student aid, freeze the maximum Pell Grant at $5,645 for the next decade, and consolidate federal job-training programs.

The plan, which aims to balance the federal budget in 10 years, is unlikely to survive in the Senate, where Democrats are poised to release a budget that would increase taxes and expand spending on education and research. Still, the dueling proposals are likely to frame the debate over government spending and revenue in the months to come.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in both chambers are scrambling to meet a March 27 deadline to enact a spending measure for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends on September 30. Last week House Republicans approved a bill that would extend spending at the current year's levels, subject to across-the-board cuts that took effect on March 1. Their measure would give the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs some flexibility in allocating those cuts, known as the sequester.

The Senate version of the spending bill for 2013 was introduced late Monday by the Appropriations Committee's chairwoman, Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, and the committee's top Republican, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. The legislation would soften some of the cuts at the science agencies, increasing spending on the National Science Foundation by $221-million over 2012's levels and providing an additional $71-million to the National Institutes of Health. But the NIH, one of the largest backers of university research, would still face more than $1-billion in budget cuts, forcing it to make hundreds fewer research grants.

The measure would provide no increase for Federal Work-Study or Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

The Senate was due to take up the bill on Tuesday, but a hold has been placed on it. Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, plans to offer an amendment that would provide $211-million more for the NIH, triple the amount in the base bill, and would offer an additional $14-million for federal TRIO college-preparatory programs. It's unclear, however, if the amendment has the votes to pass.

The federal government has been operating under a series of stopgap spending measures, known as continuing resolutions, since October 1, when the current fiscal year began.