As part of her two-day visit to Capitol Hill, University President Drew G. Faust met Tuesday with four Democratic members of the Congressional deficit-reduction “supercommittee” in the hopes that the committee will think twice before slashing funding for student aid and science research as it looks to trim $1.5 trillion from the national debt.
Accompanied by Stanford President John L. Hennessy, Faust met with Democratic Congressmen Xavier Becerra of California, James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Faust also met with Democratic Senator Max S. Baucus of Montana, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“The conversations were excellent, very lively,” Faust said in an interview after the meetings. “I felt like we were generously heard when we discussed how important the universities are to the creation of the future of our nation. Universities are a part of the solution to the challenges the United States faces.”
The committee, which consists of six Democrats and six Republicans, was created by the debt limit deal reached in early August. The agreement reduced spending by $2.1 trillion over 10 years and allowed for an immediate increase in the nation’s debt ceiling.
Harvard relies on the federal government for a significant portion of its budget, receiving about $600 million annually, largely in the form of grants. Including funds disbursed to Harvard’s teaching hospitals, annual federal support for the University totals approximately $1.2 billion.
Harvard has increasingly looked to the federal government for science research and student aid funding since the 2008 financial crisis, during which Harvard’s endowment fell nearly 30 percent from $36.9 billion to $26 billion.
But as a highly-partisan Congress attempts to reduce deficit spending, universities have become concerned that higher education funding may be slashed.
In the past year Harvard has increasingly reached out to industry and business, seeking new partnerships that will help higher education gain more clout on Capitol Hill.
This collaboration among universities, businesses, and Washington came up several times during Tuesday’s discussions.
“We talked about the importance of partnerships with business and showing how common interests with other sectors will result in positive outcomes,” Faust said. “[These partnerships are] about jobs, about the future, about the next generation of students, and about what’s in the national interest.”
On day two of her Washington, D.C., excursion, Faust will meet with several private sector CEOs and university presidents Wednesday for Bloomberg’s Business Roundtable.
Faust also met with William Kristol ’73, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, to get his perspective on the Washington political landscape.
The supercommittee must present its proposal for deficit reduction by Nov. 23, and Congress will then vote on the proposal by Dec. 23. If the bipartisan committee deadlocks and is unable to produce a proposal, then automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will take effect.
Faust said that she was hopeful that higher education funding will not be significantly reduced as the supercommittee looks to make the cuts.
“These individuals who are involved in the supercommittee are dedicated to finding a way forward, and they are very optimistic that the committee will find a way forward that suits our nation’s needs,” Faust said after her meetings. “For that reason, it was a very reassuring set of conversations.”
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at email@example.com.