Dec. 20, the doors of the U.S. Capitol closed on the end of a busy and tumultuous first session of the 107th Congress. While the events of September 11 temporarily unified congressional Republicans and Democrats, by the end of the session the strong ideological divisions over the economy, health and education that had been pervasive earlier in the year began to re-emerge. For universities, the session saw continued growth in research appropriations and a heightened interest in anti-terrorism issues that included debates over student visas, biotoxins research and cyber security.
Despite starting out with lower numbers early in the year, both the president and Congress ultimately agreed on spending boosts for major research agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). NIH was given a 15 percent increase that will keep that agency moving toward doubling its budget by the end of 2003. NSF saw an 8 percent boost. Research accounts in the departments of energy, defense and NASA also saw increases. The American Association for the Advancement of Science indicates that for fiscal 2002, federal investment in research and development will exceed $100 billion for the first time ever, with the largest percentage increase in research in nearly 20 years.
Higher education also saw an increase in the maximum Pell grant, $3,750 to $4,000.
The impact of September 11 was clearly felt both in the research funds and in the focus on fighting terrorism. Legislation was adopted to assist law enforcement in combating potential terrorist activities, and the higher education community was active in trying to preserve individual and academic freedoms while also helping authorities do their jobs. Additional legislation focusing on foreign student visa issues and on the ability of foreign nationals to do research on biotoxins and other sensitive research areas will continue to receive active attention by the House and Senate in the coming session.
This past session also saw a number of improvements in tax laws as they relate to student loan interest deductibility and continued tax exemption for employer-provided educational assistance. In the next session, higher education advocates will work for charitable giving tax incentives, such as the IRA rollover and deductions for taxpayers who do not itemize.
President Bushs proposed 2003 budget will be unveiled Feb. 4.