After a relatively light legislative week, Congress will adjourn today for a two-week recess. Once members return the week of April 24, they will have a pressing item on their plate — they will need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the remaining five months of FY 2017 since the current CR is set to expire on April 28. House Speaker Paul Ryan insists there won't be a government shutdown, but there will be significant time restraints on Congress to approve the spending measure because the traditional hold-ups such as funding for Obamacare and Planned Parenthood will spur opposition, along with immigration issues.
IL Delegation Showing Support for U of I Priorities
Even though FY2017 appropriations have not been finalized, the FY2018 appropriations process is very much underway. Several "Dear Colleague" letters were delivered to appropriators this week. These letters provide an opportunity for members to collectively convey their support for funding various agencies and programs. The letters are typically directed to the Majority and Minority appropriators who lead the subcommittee with jurisdiction over those funding lines.
- House members sent a letter to appropriators requesting at least $8 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in FY2018. The letter had a strong showing from Illinois, with nine members who signed on — Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Dan Lipinski, Bobby Rush, Danny Davis, Brad Schneider, Robin Kelly, Bill Foster, Cheri Bustos, and Raja Krishnamoorthi. There were a total of 164 signatures.
- House members sent a letter encouraging House appropriators to provide funding of at least $2 billion above the FY2017 enacted level for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY2018. Eleven Illinois members — Reps. Bobby Rush, Robin Kelly, Dan Lipinski, Luis Gutierrez, Danny Davis, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Jan Schakowsky, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Rodney Davis, and Cheri Bustos — were among the 217 signatories.
- Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis led a letter urging appropriators to provide robust funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the premier competitive grants program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The letter garnered a total of 66 signatures, including four from Illinois — Reps. Rodney Davis, Cheri Bustos, Mike Bost, and Danny Davis.
- A group of 40 Senators sent a letter to Senate appropriators encouraging them to support funding of "not less than $149.8 million" for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for fiscal year 2018. Both Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth were among the 40 signatories.
U of I has expressed appreciation to these members for their support and will continue to engage as more "Dear Colleagues" are circulated and other opportunities to support vital funding arise.
Athol Kemball, associate professor of Astronomy and the lead for physics & astronomy at Urbana's National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), was on Capitol Hill to update offices on the progress and significance of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a NSF/DOE-funded telescope which will produce a wide-field, decade-long astronomical survey of the universe. Professor Kemball discussed how NCSA will be the central archive and U.S. data access center for the LSST project. He met with the offices of Sen. Dick Durbin and the offices of Representatives Dan Lipinski, Randy Hultgren, Darin LaHood, and Bill Foster.
Rep. Rodney Davis was featured in OGR's external e-newsletter last month. See below for his responses to some questions we posed.
Why is the University of Illinois important to you? It’s a job creator. Not only is the University of Illinois the largest employer in Champaign-Urbana, but the research it does and the education it provides leads to job creation in many other areas of our economy.
Using only one word, describe the University of Illinois. Leaders.
Give us your take on the state of higher education at the federal level. We have some of the best universities and colleges in the U.S. We need to continue to ensure this education is affordable and find unique ways to address growing student debt, like my bill (H.R. 795) to help employers pay down their employee’s student debt. Also, investing in these incredibly valuable research institutions in important. As chair of the ag subcommittee that focuses on research, this is a priority of mine.
Rep. Dan Lipinski was recently featured in a COSSA (Consortium of Social Science Associations) guest post, given his role as Ranking Member of the House Science Committee's Research and Technology Subcommittee. In his post, he discusses how "social science research is in the national interest, not just for the value it adds in interdisciplinary work but also because of the value it produces on its own." Click here to read the post.
Paul Weinberger, a veteran congressional staffer with two decades of experience on Capitol Hill and with federal agencies, has joined OGR as director of federal relations. Most recently, Weinberger served as vice president of congressional and public affairs for the U.S. Government's Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), overseeing communications and outreach strategies. Before joining MCC, he served as director of congressional relations for the U.S. Peace Corps. Earlier, Weinberger served as legislative director for U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). An attorney, Weinberger also served as counsel for the House Committee on Government Reform and as a staff member for the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Weinberger will be based in Washington, DC in the U of I System's federal office near Capitol Hill.
Weinberger succeeds Jon Pyatt, who resigned in 2015 to become chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). Assistant Director of Federal Relations Melissa Haas has served as acting director during the interim. Haas, who is based in Chicago, has been promoted to associate director of federal relations, and will work with Weinberger to lead the U of I System’s federal advocacy efforts.
OGR Federal Relations
Paul Weinberger and Melissa Haas