As Congressional committees continued holding budget hearings, more top officials from federal agencies made their way to the Hill this week to testify before Members of Congress about their respective budgets.
Members Weigh in on Federal Agencies
With appropriations discussions now in progress, it's the season for Congressional "Dear Colleague" letters—letters circulated within the chambers that encourage appropriators to provide strong funding levels for particular federal agencies and programs. Several of these sign-on letters have already closed out, including one in the Senate for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and three in support of Department of Energy (DOE) programs.
For the second year in a row, Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis led a letter in support of "robust funding" for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the competitive grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, Urbana was awarded over $5 million in grants from AFRI. In addition to Rep. Davis, five other Illinois members signed on the letter: Representatives Mike Bost, Danny Davis, Robin Kelly, and Cheri Bustos. U of I appreciates Rep. Davis' leadership on the letter as well as the support demonstrated by those Illinois members.
Appropriations Work Underway Despite Budget Holdup
House Republicans are currently struggling to coalesce around a FY2017 budget resolution, largely due to opposition from conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus. Although these budget blueprints ultimately do not get signed into law, they set critical total spending figures and are required by law. Regardless, appropriators are beginning to charge ahead with their funding bills. The first subcommittee markup for an appropriations bill is scheduled to take place next week. The first one out of the gate will be for military construction and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, traditionally one of the most non-controversial spending bills.
The House returns to DC for three days next week, and will then recess for a couple of weeks, which means the rest of the appropriations bills will start being marked up until mid-April.
Senate Confirms New Education Secretary
Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed the President's nomination of Dr. John King as U.S. Secretary of Education (ED). The final vote was 49-40. King has served as Acting Secretary ever since Arne Duncan stepped down last December. King previously served as ED's Deputy Secretary and is a former New York state education commissioner. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, had urged President Obama to officially nominate someone for this top post, especially in light of the implementation of the new law governing elementary and secondary education.
Over the past few weeks, King has testified at several Congressional hearings—one before the House education committee on the President's budget request for the Department of Education (ED) and another before the Senate education committee to evaluate his nomination.
Obama Announces Supreme Court Justice Nominee
On Wednesday, President Obama submitted a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The President nominated Merrick Garland, who currently serves as the top judge on the District of Columbia Circuit. For the past couple of weeks, Republicans have insisted that the decision to fill the vacancy should be put on hold until after the presidential election. Senate Republicans are expected to block confirmation hearings for that reason.
Dean Robert Hauser and Associate Dean for Research Neal Merchen from Urbana's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) were in Washington, DC for the annual Council for Agricultural, Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET) meeting, which brings together volunteer representatives selected by their land-grant universities.
Along with our CARET delegates, they met with the offices of Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin as well as the offices of Representatives Darin LaHood, Robin Kelly, and Danny Davis. In the meetings, they communicated the significance of USDA's competitive grants program—AFRI—and extension services. They also had an opportunity to sit down with the new Deputy Chief Economist at USDA, Warren Preston.
Melissa Haas | Acting Director | OGR Federal Relations