By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter
April 1, 2021
President Joe Biden took to Pittsburgh to pitch an infrastructure package on Wednesday and while the proposal primarily contains transportation-related policies, the process by which it could be implemented is likely to incorporate a number of higher education provisions.
The infrastructure package will likely be rolled into the next reconciliation package, which is expected to also contain language concerning free community college as well as tuition breaks for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) among the main higher education components. In its current form, the package calls for $12 billion in community college infrastructure.
Budget reconciliation is a legislative maneuver that does not require a 60-vote threshold in the Senate by providing a “fast-track” process for the consideration of bills to implement the policy choices embodied in the annual congressional budget resolution. However, limits are placed on what policy changes can be considered via reconciliation, making the move particularly challenging.
During his address, Biden referred to his infrastructure package as the American Jobs Plan and plans to unveil a second package in the coming weeks — the American Families Plan — which will likely house additional higher education policy provisions and eventually be incorporated into a single congressionally-drafted package.
Biden will release more detailed proposals in the coming months while Senate Democrats prepare their next reconciliation package, which requires a number of budgetary and parliamentary procedures to be agreed upon and approved by simple majorities in each congressional chamber.
Congress utilized the reconciliation process to enact the most recent coronavirus relief package, which contained a number of Biden’s policy priorities, including about $40 billion in funding for higher education, and congressional Democrats are highly likely to use that same process to ensure enactment of a host of additional campaign promises that can succeed solely on a party-line approval.
Once the infrastructure package is fully drafted, Democrats can assess whether the legislation will garner enough bipartisan buy-in to advance in the Senate. If they don’t have the votes, Democrats could then rely on the reconciliation process to clear the bill in the same manner the American Rescue Plan Act was administered.
Senate Democrats continue to discuss filibuster reform, which requires 60 votes in the Senate to advance most pieces of legislation, and could even do away with the parliamentary tool.
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is exploring the opportunity of tapping into the reconciliation process and amending the parliamentary procedure so that Democrats could advance additional packages while relying on a simple party-line vote.