Education Secretary Miguel Cardona continued advocating for Congress to speedily implement the Biden administration’s budget request with the House Education and Labor Committee seeking insight into a number of higher education investments.
In highlighting the Department of Education’s (ED) higher education agenda, with investments in community colleges and Pell Grants, Cardona largely collected praise from Democrats while Republicans honed in on concerns over the size and scope of the budget, with both parties focused on the department’s approach to the current pause on payments and interest accrual on federally-held student loans.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), like most Democrats, praised the investments made by Biden’s budget, specifically citing investments in tuition-free community college and the “historic” increase in Pell Grants with the goal of gradually doubling the maximum award over a five-year period.
Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) largely panned the efforts of the department in its planned investment, arguing that the budget is not based in reality.
"While the Secretary will likely focus today on all the expensive new program proposals in the president’s budget that have no hope of becoming law, committee Republicans cannot help but notice the preventable $1 trillion student loan repayment disaster looming on the horizon,” Foxx said. “To date, Secretary Cardona has not communicated his plan to transition these loans from inactive to repayment status. The pandemic is over, and I expect the secretary to take ownership of his bureaucracy’s responsibility to America’s students and taxpayers.”
While Republicans have been pushing for an end to the student loan benefit, Democrats have begun to pressure ED to extend it, as well as provide borrowers with more information. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), who joined a letter spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), urging the benefit be extended through March, sought insight from Cardona.
“We are continuing conversations regularly,” Cardona said of discussions around resuming student loan repayments. “I recognize the challenge it has been for those who have debt, thinking about that date coming up soon.”
Cardona’s comments have remained consistent since first being questioned about the expiration of the benefit. In Thursday’s remarks, he stressed that the department was not idle in its consideration of the federal student loan landscape but also touted the benefits of the loan moratorium, which allowed one borrower he recently spoke with to invest in their own business.
Republicans also questioned how the department was using its oversight to track foreign gift reporting by institutions of higher education, Carona pledged to work with members on their concerns centering around foreign influence on college campuses.
Foxx also warned Cardona to not act unilaterally on making changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program without involving Congress and faulted Democrats for the program’s high denial rate under the Trump administration.
“If you try to fix this problem without coming back to legislation … I fear you will be doing what the Republicans have been accused of doing, and that is you will not be following the law, and I am very concerned about that,” Foxx said.
House appropriators have slated a pair of July markups to work to begin moving their spending bills and will begin consideration of their Labor-HHS-Education spending bill which touches on funding levels for ED on July 12.
Publication Date: 6/25/2021