Senate nixes provision boosting conservative college after uproar

Senators agreed to nix a provision in the Senate tax bill early Saturday morning that would exempt Hillsdale College, a leading conservative college in Michigan, from an excise tax on schools with more than 500 students or large endowments.

Senators voted 52-48 to strike the provision with GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins is swing vote on tax bill Top GOP senators say they have the votes to pass tax bill GOP will sell out middle class for a win on tax ‘reform’ MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Finance: GOP to reduce tax relief by 0B to win over deficit hawks | Republicans eye two-week spending bill | Fed official urges caution on digital currency | Security of auditing system under scrutiny Don’t sneak Arctic oil drilling into tax bill Senate GOP incorrectly tweets that it passed tax bill MORE (Alaska), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerSenate women: Rules on harassment must change Overnight Health Care: Mandate repeal sparks fears of premium hikes | HHS nominee to get Senate hearing this month | Trump officials eye work requirements for Medicaid recipients Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE (Neb.) and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) siding with Democrats to pass the amendment from Democratic Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Panel advances controversial Trump nominee | Ex-coal boss Blankenship to run for Senate | Dem commissioner joins energy regulator Senate panel advances controversial environmental nominee Senate Democrats introduce bill to block Trump’s refugee ban MORE (Ore.).

The surprise move came amid an uproar over the inclusion of the exemption for any university that does not accept federal financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act from excise taxes.

Though several colleges do not accept federal funding, Democrats quickly seized on the section of the tax bill, arguing that Hillsdale College would be the only school that would qualify according to the guidelines set out under the legislation.

“Hillsdale College has powerful friends including our secretary of education, but isn’t that the type of insider deal we should oppose? A vote against this amendment is a vote for an earmark, for a school for powerful friends and subsidizing education,” Merkley said ahead of the vote. 

The tax earmark was expected to be a big win for a school with several connections to the Trump administration.

For example, Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosErik Prince testifies before House Intelligence Committee DeVos on Trump ‘Pocahontas’ comment: We should ‘reflect on the things we say before we say them’ AG Sessions to face House panel in closed-door hearing MORE, graduated from Hillsdale in 1992.

Hillsdale graduates who joined the Trump administration include Josh Venable, chief of staff at the Department of Education; David Morrell, associate counsel to the president; Trump speechwriter Brittany Baldwin, and Stephen Ford, a speech writer for Vice President Pence.

The language in the bill was sponsored by GOP Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNewly declassified memos detail extent of improper Obama-era NSA spying Overnight Tech: FCC won’t fine Colbert over Trump joke | Trump budget slashes science funding | Net neutrality comment period opens Appeals court decision keeps lawsuit against NSA surveillance alive MORE (Pa.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTop GOP senators say they have the votes to pass tax bill Cruz ‘angry’ at not guilty verdict in Kate Steinle case: ‘Justice must be served’ Cruz on whether Senate should expel Moore if he wins: ‘Of course not’ MORE (Texas). 

Toomey unsuccessfully urged his colleagues to keep the measure in the tax bill.

He argued that its inclusion in the tax plan was”not about Hillsdale College exclusively. This is a broader idea.” 

“I think it’s a perfectly reasonable proposition that if a college chooses to forgo the very substantial funds available to it from federal taxpayers, it’s okay to say you’ll be exempt from this endowment so I would urge my colleagues to vote no on this amendment,” he said.