House Democrats Pass Measure to Block DeVos’ Borrower Defense Rule

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The House voted 231 to 180 to pass a resolution Thursday blocking the implementation of the Trump administration’s rewritten borrower defense regulations, which are currently set to go into effect July 1, 2020. To revert to the former rules, the resolution would also have to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and then be signed by the president — whose office already signaled intentions for a veto.

The resolution of disapproval was introduced under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to pass such resolutions to prevent a federal agency from implementing a rule, with the full force of the law. The agency also cannot issue a similar rule without authorization from Congress. The CRA was successfully used in 2017 to prevent the implementation of Obama-era regulations related to teacher preparation programs. 

When the Trump administration published its proposed and final rules for the borrower defense regulations, they were immediately met with criticism and concern from the higher education community for walking back on Obama-era rules, which advocates said provided greater protection for defrauded borrowers. In its comments to the Department of Education (ED) following the proposed rules in August 2018, NASFAA wrote that the regulations would make it “too difficult for borrowers to obtain relief.”  

Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), who in September introduced the resolution — which is now co-sponsored by more than 131 other Democrats — said ahead of the vote Thursday that “the 2019 rule sets an impossibly high bar for students to prove relief, inconsistent with state law.”

“In 2016, the last administration created a new borrower defense rule to streamline the process to help these students. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, not to Betsy DeVos. She then rewrote the borrower defense rule to make it almost impossible for a defrauded student to get relief on their student loan,” Lee said. “Even in cases where schools clearly violated the law, the burden of proof on defrauded students is so absurdly unrealistic that that student would need to hire a team of lawyers to have a shot at proving intent and misconduct from the school.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a similar resolution shortly afterward, which has been backed by 42 Democrats. 

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said earlier this month that the rewritten borrower defense rule “leaves student loan borrowers who were defrauded by their educational institutions with little or no recourse.”

“This resolution would ensure those due relief can get it,” he said in a statement.

Last month, House Democrats on the Committee on Education and Labor pressed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for more than four hours during a hearing about ED’s lack of progress in processing borrower defense claims in a timely manner.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said Thursday ahead of the vote that many people do not understand that the issues borrowers are experiencing with their borrower defense claims —  such as those highlighted in the hearing — are a result of the 2016 regulations, saying “many of them are having difficult times because the rule is so bad.”

“That's exactly what the new rule is trying to fix. It's trying to bring clarity and help these students understand, [such as] when they will be able to apply,” Foxx said. “But the students who were at Corinthian and [ITT Technical Institute] are being handled under the Obama-era rule, and that is exactly why they are having problems.”

The White House wrote in a Statement of Administrative Policy released Monday that it “strongly opposes” the resolution, adding that it “would restore the partisan regulatory regime of the previous administration, which sacrificed the interests of taxpayers, students, and schools in pursuit of narrow, ideological objectives.”

“If [the resolution] were presented to the president, his advisors would recommend that he veto it,” the statement said.


Publication Date: 1/16/2020

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