U.S. House to vote on upending DeVos student loan forgiveness policy

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee discussing proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Education Department on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is expected to vote next week on a resolution that would overturn a federal rule that critics say guts protections for defrauded student loan borrowers.

The resolution — led by Nevada Democratic U.S. Rep. Susie Lee — expresses congressional disapproval of the so-called borrower defense rule, which was revised by President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. 

All seven Michigan U.S. House Democrats are co-sponsors of the measure against DeVos, a West Michigan native and member of a powerful family that’s donated millions to GOP and education choice causes for decades.

Stabenow, Peters call on DeVos to abandon rule stripping student borrower protections

The original co-sponsors are: U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills), Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn). U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) also have signed on.

The revision makes the process for applying for and granting forgiveness “unnecessarily difficult and burdensome for the students who we are supposed to be protecting,” Lee said in a statement last fall when she introduced the bill.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens | Ken Coleman

At a U.S. House Education and Labor Committee hearing last month, Stevens said, “Secretary DeVos has the authority to provide full and immediate relief to defrauded students under the Borrower Defense rule. I am deeply disappointed that she refuses to adequately implement the Borrower Defense rule and stand up for the hundreds of thousands of student borrowers.”

The U.S. House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the resolution on Monday ahead of an expected vote in the full House chamber later in the week. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the resolution would “ensure those due relief can get it.” 

The resolution is expected to clear the Democratic-led U.S. House, but passage is unlikely in the GOP-controlled Senate. Even if it does clear the upper chamber, it would almost certainly face a veto from President Trump.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has introduced a similar resolution in the Senate. It has the backing of 42 Democratic and two independent co-sponsors

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters at the NAACP dinner | Andrew Roth

Both of Michigan’s U.S. senators, Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), have been vocal critics of DeVos’ policy and wrote a letter in October asking the department to return to its Obama-era rule. They are both original co-sponsors of the Senate measure.

Originally conceived as a form of consumer protection, the borrower defense rule was rarely used until claims began to pile up from students who had been enrolled in for-profit colleges. A big spike in claims came after the closure of Corinthian Colleges, which left hundreds of thousands of students in debt and with an education of little value.

In response, the former President Obama administration rewrote the rule to set up a system of loan forgiveness in cases of institutional misconduct. The rule took effect in October 2016, months before Trump took office. 

When DeVos took the helm of the U.S. Education Department, she said she wanted to rewrite the Obama-era rule, which she thought was too lenient. 

The Trump administration stopped processing new and pending claims and started work on new regulations. Meanwhile, student advocacy groups sued the agency for inaction. But as the battle works its way through the courts, the pending claims are still awaiting response and it is unclear when or how the department will process them.

Nessel joins state AGs urging DeVos to disclose student loan data

The Education Department finalized its new regulations last August to oversee the process for future claims. Under the revised rule, students can still seek repayment regardless of whether their loan is in default, but it adds some requirements for repayment for future claims. 

DeVos testified on behalf of the change before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee last month. 

“Any form of blanket approval for forgiveness is not fair to the taxpayers nor does it represent the spirit and intent of any of the borrower defense to repayment rules,” she said at the time.

Allison Winter, a Washington correspondent for States Newsroom, contributed to this story.

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a reporter for States Newsroom's Washington, D.C. bureau.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.