No Curveballs for Higher Ed

Final tallies of exactly how many seats Republicans gained Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are days — if not weeks — away (though by early Wednesday morning, the major news networks were projecting gains of more than 60 seats in the House). But anyone who didn’t stay up all night watching election results pour in has woken up to a GOP-led House of Representatives and a Senate guided by a small Democratic majority.

What do the results mean for federal higher education policy and the members of Congress who’ve played key roles in crafting those policies?

Nothing that couldn’t have been predicted well before Election Day (or by Inside Higher Ed in an article Tuesday). In the House, Republicans are expected to push for budget cuts and greater oversight of all of higher education, not just for-profit colleges. In the Senate, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will continue the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s examination of for-profit colleges into next year.

Harkin and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have said they plan to introduce legislation in 2011 targeting perceived waste, fraud and abuse in for-profit higher education. The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Durbin had been toying with a run to become his party’s leader, but with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada’s apparent victory in a tight race over Republican Sharron Angle, a challenge to Reid’s leadership position seems unlikely.

With Republicans taking the majority in the House, the former chairman of the chamber’s Education and Labor Committee, John Boehner of Ohio, is the presumptive Speaker of the House. He and other Republican leaders in September issued “A Pledge to America,” which offered up the party’s vision for a majority in the House and included a call to reduce non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels.

For higher education, that could translate into cuts for the rapidly growing Pell Grant program and curtailed appropriations for research agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Boehner has also made clear that the House under his leadership will rely more on the committee process to develop legislation, and the Education and Labor Committee will certainly welcome a few dozen new members in the 112th Congress. There are currently 30 Democratic slots on the panel and 19 for Republicans, and those numbers will — give or take a few — flip in the new Congress.

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