Although this week was a bit quieter due to the aftermath of last weekend's major snow storm, the past few weeks have been busy here in DC with the kick off of the 2nd session of the 114th Congress and activity prompted by the President's State of the Union Address.
State of the Union Takeaways, Follow-Ups
President Barack Obama delivered his eighth and final State of the Union Address on January 12, providing the nation with a preview of some of the major issues and initiatives that he plans to focus on during this final year of his presidency.
One of the initiatives he announced—a "moon shot" initiative to cure cancer—grabbed the attention of many. The president acted on this yesterday by declaring the formation of a White House Cancer Moon Shot Task Force to "[make] the most of Federal investments, targeted incentives, private sector efforts from industry and philanthropy, patient engagement initiatives, and other mechanisms to support cancer research and enable progress in treatment and care." Vice President Joe Biden will lead the task force, which will consist of representatives from government agencies. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been vocal in embracing this endeavor as an opportunity to advance his 21st Century Cures legislation, which was approved by the full House last July. Meanwhile, the Senate counterpart committee recently unveiled plans to soon take up its own medical innovation package.
During the State of the Union, several Democrats sported red pins as part of the launch of a new #InTheRed messaging campaign geared to mobilize Members of Congress to address college affordability. President Obama's comments on higher education amplified that campaign: "...we have to make college affordable for every American. No hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We've already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower's income. And that's good. But now, we've actually got to cut the cost of college." He also touted his free community college proposal and his intention to keep pushing Congress to act on it. Just this week, Senate Democrats followed up on the president's remarks by announcing legislation entitled the Reducing Educational Debt (RED) Act. The RED Act wraps three affordability bills into one package, including a bill to allow borrowers to refinance their federal and private student loans at lower interest rates, another measure to index future Pell Grant funding to inflation, and a third measure to make two years of community college tuition-free.
FY2017 Programmatic Requests
In keeping with years past, the University of Illinois will soon be submitting "programmatic requests" for the next fiscal year (FY). UI's Office of Governmental Relations is currently collecting input from the campuses to prepare our programmatic request letter for FY2017. The letter, which will be delivered to the Illinois Congressional delegation, outlines the University's top federal funding priorities by highlighting the agencies and programs we care about. The release of the President's budget request is expected on February 9, which will officially set the appropriations process in motion. We are anticipating that Congressional offices will set internal deadlines for mid-to-late February. If you have any questions or would like to submit a request, please contact Melissa Haas.
Durbin Promotes Biomedical Research, Tours Urbana Campus Sites
Senator Dick Durbin recently spent a whole afternoon on the Urbana campus. He started with holding a press conference to discuss the significant funding increases that were included in the FY2016 omnibus appropriations package for medical research, specifically at the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense. Urbana Vice Chancellor for Research Peter Schiffer kicked off the event by providing welcoming remarks and UI President Tim Killeen introduced Sen. Durbin. Three Urbana professors—Professors Emad Tajkhorshid, Paul Hergenrother, and Princess Imoukhuede—also took to the podium to describe the impacts of federally funded biomedical research. Click here to watch full footage from the press conference. Following the event, the Senator received a tour of the Autonomic Materials Laboratory, which was led by Professors Scott White and Nancy Sottos.
Sen. Durbin then toured the new Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education, a national resource for student veterans with disabilities. The tour was led by the Center's Interim Director, Nick Osborne, Tanya Gallagher, Dean of Urbana's College of Applied Health Sciences, and Garrett Anderson, one of the Center's Graduate Assistants.
Finally, Sen. Durbin met up with leadership from the Prairie Research Institute to tour the University of Illinois-Abbott Power Plant, which received a $1 million grant last summer from the Department of Energy to develop a proposal for retrofitting the power plant in order to capture CO2 emissions.
Melissa Haas | Acting Director | OGR Federal Relations