The 118th Congress is sure to be split, with Democrats maintaining control of the Senate and Republicans flipping the House, meaning that passing any legislation — let alone bills related to higher education — is likely to be challenging. Still, previously introduced legislation could foreshadow respective party priorities for higher education policy as they pursue their agendas.
House Republicans officially flipped the House on Wednesday, and while the GOP higher education agenda is unlikely to pass through the Democrat-led Senate, that legislation could set the stage for key issues in the 2024 presidential election. And higher education policies Democrats have championed, such as student loan reform or doubling the maximum Pell Grant, are unlikely to pass the Republican-led House, leading to challenges in what legislation will ultimately land on President Joe Biden’s desk.
As NASFAA previously reported, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Education and Labor committee, will be seeking a waiver from Republicans to lead the panel in the next congressional session. And while Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate education committee, was reelected, the education committee will likely see new leadership. Murray is expected to become chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is likely to lead the education panel.
Earlier this year Foxx and other House Republicans in August introduced student loan reform legislation, named the Responsible Education Assistance Through Loan (REAL) Reforms Act.
The REAL Reforms Act would, among other things, place caps on the overall amount any borrower would repay on their loans, make a number of adjustments to income-driven repayment (IDR) plans that would offer more targeted relief to borrowers, and give schools the authority to limit loans for populations of borrowers in certain circumstances. NASFAA later responded to the legislation by sending a letter to the cosponsors, noting areas of the bill that have promise, such as eliminating interest capitalization, as well as where the bill falls short, including eliminating the Grad PLUS and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) programs.
Foxx at an event with the American Enterprise Institute later said the REAL Reforms Act is a part of a future Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization should Republicans take the House. She added that Republicans have planned a "vigorous" higher education bill for next year.
And while the Biden administration fights to carry out its student loan forgiveness program, some advocates are pushing the administration to extend the pause on student loan repayment. In March, House Republicans sponsored legislation that would force payments to resume and could be a measure they turn back to if the repayment pause is extended.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have also introduced student loan reform legislation. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), current chair of the House education committee, in September introduced the Lowering Obstacles to Achievement Now (LOAN) Act. The LOAN Act would double the federal Pell Grant by increasing the maximum award over a five-year period to $13,000, alter the PSLF program by shortening the time to forgiveness, and codify the limited PSLF waiver which expired last month.
Additionally, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriations, introduced the Affordable Loans for Any Student Act, which would create only two repayment options. One plan would be the same as the current 10-year standard repayment plan, and the other repayment plan would be capped at 20 years of payments and require a borrower to pay 10% of their income above the poverty line each month.
Scott and DeLauro in October said congressional Democrats were going to have their hands full with the appropriations process to pass an omnibus bill during the lame duck session. That means Scott’s LOAN Act and DeLauro’s Affordable Loans for Any Student Act could be left for the next congressional session.
"I think we have to leave that to the next Congress," DeLauro said at the event. "But what we should do is to prioritize the areas that we believe we can move on and get agreement on as we move forward."
There are multiple bills from the 117th Congress that would increase the maximum Pell Grant award, a key measure Democrats have been pushing. That includes Biden, who in his budget request for fiscal year 2023 proposed doubling the maximum Pell Grant by 2029. Legislation currently includes the Degrees Not Debt Act of 2022 which would set the maximum Pell Grant award amount at $13,800 and the Pell Grant Sustainability Act which would require the Department of Education (ED) to calculate the maximum award amount for Pell Grants by indexing the award amount to the rate of inflation.
NASFAA in June published an issue brief where it called on Congress to Double the Pell Grant maximum amount to $13,000 to restore its purchasing power for low- and moderate-income students struggling to meet college costs. NASFAA supports doubling the Pell Grant in order to make necessary investments in federal student aid that have been pushed off for decades.
Institutional risk sharing has been another focus during the 117th Congress, particularly amongst Republican lawmakers. Earlier this year Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced the COLLEGE Act — Changing Our Learning, Loans, Endowments, and Graduation Expectations — which aims to put institutions “on the hook” for student debt and to implement reporting requirements for ED.
Specifically, institutions would be responsible for paying 1% of the loan balance of any borrowers in default within the first three years of their loans entering repayment. As time passes, the rate jumps to 2% in the second year of default and ultimately increases to 10% of that balance at the end of 10 years.
Similarly, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in September introduced the Make the Universities Pay Act, which would make higher education institutions liable to pay up to 50% of their student’s loan balance if they are in default.
Keep up to date with this legislation with NASFAA's Legislative Tracker, which breaks down legislation by issue area to allow members the ability to find the legislation on topics or federal programs most important to them and their institution. Readers can also listen to NASFAA’s latest episode of “Off The Cuff” with Lanae Erickson, senior vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, about the impact that the midterm elections will have on higher education policy.
Publication Date: 11/21/2022