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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - December 5th, 2022

Sanders and Cassidy to Lead Senate HELP Committee

Washington Update


It’s down to the wire for congressional appropriators and leaders to reach a deal to fund the government beyond December 16 when a stop-gap spending measure expires. Top congressional appropriators say they are making progress toward a bipartisan government funding deal, as Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (VT) and Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (AL) continue to negotiate overall funding levels for defense and nondefense programs. On Thursday, December 1, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) warned that if Congress fails to pass a spending package in the coming weeks, that passing a year-long continuing resolution as a ‘last resort’ would be inevitable – something Pentagon leaders and other officials have warned would significantly restrict their agencies.

Colleges and universities are pushing for an omnibus spending deal that includes a boost to the maximum Pell grant and other student aid programs. They’re also lobbying to get Congress to include funding for the research and science programs lawmakers authorized as part of the CHIPS and Science Act earlier this year. An omnibus, year-end government spending deal could also be a vehicle for other education policies that have been debated this Congress, including short-term Pell and the College Transparency Act, which is aimed at improving federal tracking of student outcomes in higher education.

Congressional Leadership

On Wednesday, November 30, a group of Republican members of the House Education and Labor committee sent a letter to their party’s steering committee in support of Congresswoman Virginia Foxx’s (NC) pursuit of a waiver to helm the committee next Congress – including Congressmen Tim Walberg and Jim Banks, who have been considered to lead the committee should the waiver not be granted. Foxx is seeking a waiver because of an internal GOP rule that prohibits members from serving more than three consecutive terms as a ranking member or chair of a committee. The steering committee is expected to make their chair and committee decisions this week. Should Foxx get the waiver, she plans to focus on the Biden administration’s student loan debt relief program and expanding school choice. She will also rename the panel the House Education and Workforce Committee. If the waiver isn’t approved, Congressmen Tim Walberg (MI) or Jim Banks (IN) would possibly lead the committee.

Senate HELP Committee

Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Bill Cassidy (LA) are expected to lead the Senate HELP Committee. Cassidy is expected to become the next ranking member of the committee after Senator Richard Burr (NC) retires at the end of the year, following Kentucky Senator Rand Paul ’s decision to seek the ranking member slot on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Sanders’ priority for the committee will be college affordability, while Cassidy has advocated for school choice, the College Transparency Act and teaching students with dyslexia.

Also, on Tuesday, November 29, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced two of President Biden’s labor nominees, Jessica Looman and Karla Gilbride, and deadlocked on a third, Moshe Marvit. Jessica Looman is on track to lead the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division while Karla Gilbride is set to serve as general counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Committee split evenly on Moshe Marvit’s nomination to serve on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission – whose confirmation would give Democrats a majority on the panel, which has faced partisan power struggles for months.

Finally, Malbert Smith has been promoted to be senior legislative assistant for the Department of Labor. He most recently was a legislative officer at DOL. Alison Burke is now chief of staff of DOL’s public affairs office. She was most recently the director of digital strategy in that office.

Online College Outsourcing

Top House and Senate Democrats are calling on Education Secretary Miguel Cardonas and the Biden administration to crack down on the companies that universities hire to advertise and manage their online courses, including reexamining whether a critical part of the industry’s business model is permitted under federal law.

In a letter signed by the chairs of the congressional education committees, Representative Bobby Scott (VA) and Senator Patty Murray (WA); House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT); as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Tina Smith (MN), the Democrats urged the new administration to immediately begin a “formal legal review” of Education Department guidance that allows colleges to pay the companies based on the amount of tuition revenue they help generate. That guidance, published in 2011, carves out an exception to the typical federal rule against “incentive compensation” in higher education, which is meant to prevent abusive student recruiting practices.

Online program management companies (OPMs) have faced scrutiny in the past from some Democrats and consumer advocates, who are concerned about the growing role of the businesses in higher education. Accordingly, senior Democrats are now laying out more specific demands for how they want the Biden administration to address the companies. Federal and state regulators lack “adequate oversight of OPM arrangements, especially considering the significant amount of federal funding flowing to OPMs,” according to the Democrats’ letter. They cited a congressional watchdog report from earlier this year that raised questions about whether the Education Department is appropriately monitoring colleges’ agreements with for-profit businesses.

They also want the Education Department to examine whether colleges are required to disclose more information to students and prospective students about the role an OPM is playing, often behind the scenes, in operating its online courses.

Click here to read the letter.

Unemployment Rate

On Friday, December 2, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the November jobs report, which showed employers added 263,000 jobs last month and data for October was revised higher to show payrolls increasing 284,000 instead of 261,000, as previously reported. Economists had forecast a payroll increase of 200,000. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%. The leisure and hospitality sector led last month in gains in employment with 88,000 jobs be wind added - mainly at restaurants and bars; however, employment in the sector remains down 980,000 from its pre-pandemic level.

Click here to access the report.

Click here to access Secretary Walsh’s statement on the November Jobs Report.

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