Updated Action Items for Opposing the #GradStudentTax

Good Morning #GradStudentTax / #GradSchoolTax opponents! I have some positive news for you – and updated action items. TL;DR version is your hard work is paying off – but we need you to do more!

First up, House Member Pete Sessions (R-TX) is circulating a letter to his colleagues in both chambers on the #GradStudentTax. In the letter, Sessions asks Speaker Ryan and Sen. McConnell to make sure the final bill doesn’t include a #GradStudentTax.  He specifically makes an economic development argument – graduate students innovate and are good for business. Hopefully, this letter sways business-minded legislators!

Sessions is just one house member, so why is this a big deal? Well, Sessions is the head of the powerful House Rules committee. This means that #GradStudentTax opponents have a big-time ally in their corner. To quote the House committee’s website “In essence, so long as a majority of the House is willing to vote for a special rule, there is little that the Rules Committee cannot do.” Sessions joining in opposition to the Grad Student Tax is a major step in the right direction. Hopefully he can bring other key players to the team as well.

Sessions’s letter also means that GradStudentTax advocates have a pro-active ask to make of their House members and Senators. Now, when you call your Representative or Senator, ask them (nicely) to go to bit.ly/GradStudentTax and sign Rep. Session’s letter in support of grad students.

Second, the list of conferees – the people who will be reconciling the House and Senate bills – is out. The list provides some good news for Grad Student Tax opponents.

The Senate conferees include Sen. Tim Scott, who has opposed the  Grad Student Tax from the beginning. Many of other Senators don’t seem to have spoken about the tuition waiver tax publicly, but I shouldn’t discourage Grad Student Tax opponents. Legislators generally don’t comment on hypothetical provisions that are NOT in a bill. The Grad Student Tax has never been in Senate bill – so don’t be surprised that the other Senators haven’t spoken up about this. (On a quick note, I should point out that Senator Toomey has expressed lukewarm support for a tuition waiver tax, but the lobbies for many of the universities in Pennsylvania are very, very strong. I expect lukewarm support to become lukewarm opposition when it is all said and done).

While many in the House have done an about-face on the Grad Student Tax and now oppose it – including Rep. Mia Love from Utah and Sessions – none of those members is on the conference committee. One of the leaders of House conferees is Rep. Brady (R-TX) who has questioned whether tuition waivers should be taxed, but has said repeatedly that he is listening to #GradStudentTax opponents – basically, their ears are open to hearing from #GradStudentTax opponents. So, here’s what you can do:

1) Keep calling Senate members to thank them for opposing the #GradStudentTax.

Here is the phone information for key Senators, but you can also call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for any one of them:

Sen. Hatch (UT) – (801) 524-4380

Sen. Scott (SC) – (803) 771-6112

Sen. Enzi (WY) – (307) 772-2477

Sen. Murkowski (AK)- (907) 271-3735

Sen. Cornyn (TX) – (512) 469-6034

Sen. Portman (OH) – (614) 469-6774

Sen. Thune (SD) – (605) 334-9596

Sen. Toomey (PA) – (717) 782-3951

Remember, the Senate has not yet tried to institute a #GradStudentTax, so when you call Senators, make sure to kindly thank them for their support. Then ask them to show their support by going to bit.ly/GradStudentTax and signing Rep. Sessions’s letter.

2) #GradStudentTax opponents should also start calling House members on the conference committee. Here are the numbers for the House GOP conferees (but please only call if you are in their district – out of district calls are less effective):

Rep. Brady (Suburban Houston, TX) – (936) 441-5700

Rep. Roskam (Suburban Chicago, IL) – (630) 232-0006

Rep. Nunes (Suburban and rural areas around Fresno, CA) – (559) 733-3861

Rep. Bishop (Park City and Ogden, UT) – (801) 625-0107

Rep. Young (AK) – (907) 271-5978

Rep. Walden (East of the Willamette Valley, OR) – (541) 776-4646

Rep. Shimkus (Southeastern IL) – (217) 446-0664

Rep. Noem (SD) – (605) 275-2868

Rep. Black (Gallatin, TN) – (615) 206-8204

There are some “exceptions” to the “don’t call if you aren’t in the district rule.” If you once lived in the district or have children, parents, or other family in the district, it is okay to call as long as you let the legislative aides know your connection to the district. Representatives Young and Noem are the only house members for their states, so anyone living in Alaska should call Young and anyone in South Dakota should call Noem. Also,  Rep. Black (TN) and Rep. Noem (SD) are running for governor in their respective states – guess what that means? If you live in their states give them a call and ask them to oppose the #GradStudentTax and sign on to Rep. Sessions’s letter.

3) Continue to write op-eds in local newspapers. Write them in the form of an open letter to the House or Senate member you are trying to reach, ask them to oppose the #GradStudentTax. In your Op-Eds, make sure to use the Senator/House Member’s name. Chances are that some staffer has a google alert set up for their boss’s name. They will see it!

4) Protesting might have helped before, but it won’t help in this particular case. After my last twitter thread/blog post, I got a bit of flak for advocating against protesting the #GradStudentTax through public marches. I want to be clear here – I’m not against protesting writ large. In fact, I think the March for Science and the Women’s March were incredibly important and drew attention to major issues the higher education community and the country face. However, not all tactics work equally on every issue.

I’ve said this before, but my lobbyist colleagues have expressed concern that protest marches on the #GradStudentTax are making it harder for them to do their jobs by alienating the legislators they need to support colleges, universities and grad students. It simply isn’t a tactic that works at this juncture. The #GradTaxWalkout may have brought awareness to the #GradStudentTax, but it also got some negative press.  Besides, a repeat march isn’t going to bring any new pairs of eyes to this issue. Legislators are aware of the issue, now we need to convince them that the #GradSchoolTax is a bad idea.

Phone banks and letter-writing events are a great idea! They are low-cost, take only a few minutes, and are easy for a just few grad students to set up. When you call or write, make sure to tell a story – tell them how your research helps people, and why you couldn’t do it w/ a #GradStudentTax. (Basically, this is a great time for you to practice your elevator pitch for when you hit the tenure track job market!)

5) Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be kind. Please, please, PLEASE be nice to the poor legislative aide who answers the phone. Most of these folks are college students or just out of college, working for pennies. Yelling at them gets you nowhere – it makes them less likely to listen. We need them to listen. If they don’t listen their bosses won’t listen.

In summary... be kind, continue doing what you’re doing, write and call your legislators, thank them for their opposition on the #GradStudentTax, ask them to sign Rep. Sessions’s Letter on the #GradSchoolTax, and don’t give up the fight. We have reasons to be hopeful – now let’s get to writing and calling.

Update 12/08/17: I’m hearing from #highered lobbyists that we need to focus on the House… not the Senate. So, go call your favorite GOP House member, and tell them you are concerned about the #GradSchoolTax and the #EndowmentTax. Then, ask them to weigh in with the Majority Leader (Rep. McCarthy) and Rep. Brady about these issues. Then call your second-favorite GOP House member and do it all again! Lastly, remember to be kind and courteous over the phone.

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