'Cause of a technicality, but whatever--here's hoping!
Chronicle of Higher Education
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Clerical Error Means That New Law Slashing Federal Student-Loan Programs Might Be Illegal
By STEPHEN BURD
Washington--Opponents of legislation that slashed $12-billion from federal student-loan programs may have another chance to defeat it, even though President Bush signed the measure into law last week.
Constitutional experts are questioning the legality of the $39-billion deficit-reduction package because the versions of the legislation (S 1932) that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives sent to the president for his signature were not identical.
As a result of a clerical error, a provision related to the amount of time that the government can rent medical equipment from manufacturers for Medicare patients differed in the two versions of the final bill, according to the Associated Press. Lawmakers had agreed that the time should be 13 months.
However, while transcribing the bill the Senate passed in December, a Senate clerk inadvertently entered that time as 36 months. The legislation the House approved on February 1 included the error.
Before the bill was sent to the president, the clerk altered the measure in the House-passed version to correct it, and Republican leaders in both chambers, who had been aware of the error, signed off on the legislation.
To try to prevent challenges to the new law, the Senate last week passed a resolution stating that the legislation President Bush had signed reflected "the intention of Congress." Efforts by Republicans in the House to pass a similar measure have been stymied so far by the Democrats.
Even if such a resolution is approved by both chambers, legal scholars say, the constitutional questions would persist because resolutions are not binding.
The leaders of the House and Senate would either have to repeal the budget-cutting law and bring the bill up for another vote, the scholars say, or risk a legal challenge.
Congressional observers say that the Republicans are reluctant to stage a revote as they barely eked out victories the first time around.
Opponents of the deficit-reduction package -- including advocates for students and colleges who are unhappy with the student-loan cuts -- say they are eager to continue the fight, whether in Congress or in the courts.
Officials with the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities, a coalition of groups that have led the battle against the budget-cutting measure, are considering seeking a court order against the government to prevent the law from going into effect until the dispute is resolved. They said they might also organize a broader legal challenge.
In a written statement, Cara Morris Stern, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said, "Steps to expose this abuse of power and correct this wrong are being considered."