Lawmakers are eyeing the huge endowments of universities such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford as a resource to be tapped to pay for students' college costs.
Republicans are working on legislation, meant to be bipartisan, that would force the richest colleges to spend more of their investment income on student aid or face higher taxes.
Threatening new taxes is not a typical GOP move, but the policy would provide a way to address the politically urgent problem of rising college costs without new government spending.
"It's just a matter of making sure that those charitable dollars ... go to the real crisis," said Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican who is finishing the legislation. "And the crisis upon us is allowing working families in particular to send their kids to colleges and universities, because today the costs are just so exorbitant."
Reed said he was close to finishing the legislation and that he was confident of bipartisan support.