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On the Hill

TRUE TO THEIR WORD, Democratic congressional leaders wasted little time in moving to improve college affordability by increasing Pell Grant awards and slashing interest rates on student loans. Both actions fulfilled promises they made during last year's campaigns.

With the 110th Congress in business under new, if narrow, Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Washington higher ed leaders are looking hopefully but cautiously at what the shift might mean for their priority issues.

All eyes in Washington's postsecondary community are on the future, which begins in January with the start of the newly elected 110th Congress and the final two years of the Bush administration.

With the ink barely dry on the signatures of all but one member of a national commission formed to consider the future of U.S. higher education, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is moving quickly and aggressively to consider how to implement some of the recommendations.

The heat of politics, combined with the humid heat of a Washington, D.C., summer, is putting a damper on the progress of legislation in Congress that is important to the higher education community.

The 109th congress be-gan business with reauthorization of the Higher Education Act topping the higher ed community's agenda. A year and a half later, HEA renewal still was not a done deal as the legislative body began to look toward the end of its session.

A last-minute addition to legislation Congress enacted in February to trim the federal deficit provides what could turn out to be a significant new headache for college and university financial aid administrators.

Still reeling from Congressional action that slashed $12.7 billion from federal student aid as 2005 ended, Washington's higher ed community began the New Year trying to come to grips with the situation they faced.

With legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) lumbering toward enactment, although its final form remains uncertain, the higher education community in Washington is paying attention to new developments in other areas.

One issue: regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broaden law enforcement's ability to monitor electronic communications involving suspected terrorists and criminals.

Sometime this fall, Congress might renew the Higher Education Act (HEA). Then again, it might not.

Although Congress undoubtedly will reauthorize the HEA at some point, the timetable for action and what the legislation will finally look like were unclear as lawmakers reconvened after Labor Day following their traditional late-summer recess.