As Congress returned from August recess earlier this week, student aid advocates immediately focused their efforts on the Senate. In the coming weeks, the Senate will likely consider a companion bill to the House Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (HR 3221) -which passed easily in the House Education and Labor Committee on July 21st. The House legislation would implement much of President Obama’s student loan proposal, most notably ending the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) in favor of 100% participation in the Direct Lending (DL) program in order to realize savings that can be used to bolster the Pell Grant program. The House bill was set on a course that would allow for it to be considered as part of a budget reconciliation process or the normal legislative process. The budget reconciliation process may also be utilized for health care reform, as it allows a simple majority (51 votes) to pass legislation in the Senate as opposed to a super-majority of 60 votes. Reconciliation instructions require the House and Senate education committees to report reconciliation bills by Oct. 15. If the deadline is missed, leaders will have to utilize the normal legislative process.
Although the legislation has traveled a relatively smooth path in the House, the outcome in the Senate is less certain. Some members with FFELP lenders in their states have balked at the Administration’s plan and are exploring alternatives. As a Direct Lending school with a large population of Pell grant students, the UW is actively pushing for legislation that will enable increases in mandatory spending for Pell.
In related news, Senator Harkin (D-IA) will take over the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that was previously chaired by former Senator Ted Kennedy. Despite some concerns about the President’s proposal to end FFELP, Senator Harkin has long been viewed as a reliable advocate for student aid.