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Lawmakers Put Student Loans in the Limelight

June 12, 2014

On June 9, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum ordering new caps on student loan payments by directing the secretary of education to begin the process to allow nearly 5 million federal student loan borrowers to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. The memorandum requests the secretary to conduct an expeditious rulemaking process in order to enable eligible borrowers to take advantage of this option by December 31, 2015.

Presently, only certain federal loan borrowers, who borrowed on or after October 1, 2011, are eligible for the Pay as You Earn repayment plans, the rules of which officially went into effect July 1, 2013.

Garnering less attention from the media, were other elements of the directive from President Obama, which seeks new strategies to help educate and assist struggling student loan borrowers. The Memorandum also:

  • Asks the secretary of education to implement new strategies of communication with borrowers:

In addition to focusing on borrowers who have fallen behind on their loan payments, the secretary's effort shall focus on borrowers who have left college without completing their education, borrowers who have missed their first loan payment, and borrowers (especially those with low balances) who have defaulted on their loans to help them rehabilitate their loans with income-based monthly payments.

  • Asks the secretary of the treasury and the secretary of education to, "invite private-sector entities to enter into partnerships to better educate borrowers about income-based repayment plans during the tax filing season in 2015."
  • Asks the secretary of education, in consultation with the secretary of the treasury, to:

Convene higher education experts and student-debt researchers to identify ways to evaluate and strengthen loan counseling for federal student loan borrowers...[and] collaborate with organizations representing students, teachers, nurses, social workers, entrepreneurs, and business owners, among others, to help borrowers represented by these organizations learn more about the repayment options that are available to them in financing their investment in higher education and managing their debt, and to provide more comparative, customized resources to those borrowers when possible.

The president, building off of the announcement of the directive, took part in a Q&A on Tumblr on June 10, to answer questions about education, college affordability and reducing student loan debt.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), following the president's announcement, stated, "The challenge a lot of college graduates face in the Obama economy is finding a good paying job. For many, the dream of launching a successful career after graduation has turned into a nightmare of debt and unemployment...The House remains focused on policies that promote job creation, so that every graduate who wants a job can find a job. The committee will also continue its work to strengthen the postsecondary education system through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act."

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a former U.S. secretary of education and former president of the University of Tennessee, in a press release on June 9, reacted by saying, "Republicans want to work with the President on the real student debt problems: overly complicated loan repayment programs, mostly caused by the Obama administration itself, and excessive borrowing, mostly caused by a very small percent of graduate students. Ninety percent of all loans over $100,000 are graduate loans-and these loans are just 6% of all graduate loans and less than 2 percent of all student loans."

Senate Fails to Pass Student Loan Refinancing Legislation

Alexander also voted against Sen. Warren's legislation, stating, "This is not a serious proposal. It's not going to help people. College graduates don't need a $1 a day subsidy to pay off their $27,000 loan, which is the average for a four-year degree. They need a job."

On June 11, the Senate took up the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432), but supporters failed to secure the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, after a vote of 56 to 38. Debate was heated with Republicans accusing Warren, and Democrats, of using student debt for political gain.

"With this vote, we show the American people who we work for in the United States Senate: billionaires or students," Warren said. The student loan provision in S. 2432 would have been paid for by implementing a new tax on anyone making more than $1 million a year, by phasing in the so-called "Buffet Rule."

Also on Capitol Hill

On June 4, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing titled "The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Borrowers and the Economy." While at the same time, the Senate Banking Committee's Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection held a hearing titled "Student Loan Servicing: The Borrower's Experience."

On June 9, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Employer Participation in Refinancing Act, bipartisan legislation that would let employees who refinance their existing student loans into the private market repay their debt with pre-tax dollars. 

Contact

Liz Clark
Director, Congressional Relations
202.861.2553
E-mail