Dems Stopped Hillsdale College in Tax Bill, But Lost the War for Education - Higher Education
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Dems Stopped Hillsdale College in Tax Bill, But Lost the War for Education

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It seemed like an exercise straight out of college life. It wasn’t an all-nighter, but close. It was caffeine-driven senators—ultimately, a simple majority of 51–looking like a bunch of delinquent crammers trying to finish a term paper by deadline.

All they were doing was changing a document that defies Cliff noting, the U.S. Tax Code.

But they did it in a way that makes one ashamed of government.

The GOP tax bill’s passage on Friday was an appalling display of how money and politics work, with senators jamming through a tax bill that fundamentally serves its patrons, rich corporations and individuals, while neglecting broader societal needs like health care and education.

The Senate bill, criticized by non-partisans for adding $1 trillion to the national debt, was going through so many last second revisions, it’s not clear what was in or out.
Changes were literally scribbled on the margins. And when the 500 word document was delivered to the entire senate, many complained about being forced to vote on something they hadn’t even digested carefully.

But it didn’t matter. The core goal was intact. It would serve the wealthy.

One thing for sure, education wasn’t a priority. Higher education officials were already aware how the bill would impact schools throughout the country.

The University of California, the largest public research institution in the country, issued a joint statement from its president Janet Napolitano, and two student leaders, Student Regent Paul Monge and Student Regent-designate Devon Graves.

They were in solidarity in sounding an alarm.

“A repeal of long-established, critical tax benefits — from tuition waivers to loan-debt relief — will threaten the affordability and accessibility of higher education for so many students and families,” read the statement. “Tax reform should not be borne on the backs of our hardworking graduate students. They are vital to the university community and society at large: They further groundbreaking research, mentor the next generation and contribute to the economy. They are our nation’s future and deserve congressional support — not a tax hike.”

It was an appeal that fell on deaf ears.

To impact this bill you needed to be a Republican senator on the fence, like Arizona’s Jeff Flake.

Or you had to have an extreme lobbyist as your super advocate to essentially write and pass your own private law. You can have that done if you have a friend in high places—like Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

One such law was to protect colleges from a new endowment tax that would place a 1.4 percent excise tax on endowment investment income.
You could, however, be protected by a proposed law based on enrollment and size of endowment.

Guess what? The new tax applies to all schools. The protection applied to just one school— Hillsdale College.
Ever heard of that school?

It’s a private college linked to DeVos, whose brother, Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater private security, is a proud graduate.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer noticed the special favor, and used it as an example to highlight what was wrong with the entire tax bill.

“A single wealthy college, the pet project of billionaire campaign contributors to the Republican Party, was exempted from a tax by a senator (Pat Toomey, R-Pa.) who fought to get rid of earmarks,” Schumer said before the vote. “That, unfortunately, is a metaphor for the bill, and how high the stench is rising in this chamber as we debate the bill tonight.”

Schumer was able to get rid of the proposed law and win the Battle of Hillsdale. But he lost the war.

It was still close with some Republicans on the fence.

Every last vote counted. And then Arizona’s Jeff Flake, an anti-Trump Republican, who pundits thought would vote against the bill, finally gave in to help give his fellow Republicans get the all-important 50th vote they needed to assure victory. His reason?

He said he got assurances from Senate Leadership and the administration to work with him on a “growth-oriented legislative solution to enact fair and permanent protections for DACA recipients.”

His special interest. No guarantee he’ll save DACA, but good enough to get his tax vote. Everyone else, be damned.

That’s the way laws are made in America.

Next time, higher education needs to hire better lobbyists. Or get better friends—preferably ones who place real value on education.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the civil rights group AALDEF at http://www.aaldef.org/blog