DC Shuttle: To Hold Down Student Loan Interest Rates, Congress Weighs Cuts to Health Law, Closing Tax Benefits for Oil and Gas Cos.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats introduced a bill (S. 2343) to extend the current interest rate on subsidized student loans for one year beyond the July 1 expiration date. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the cost of a one-year extension to be $6 billion, which the bill would pay for by ending a tax benefit for S corporations. Under the bill, shareholders of these corporations would have to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on dividends and shares of the company’s profits if they are also employed by the corporation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed for cloture on the bill on Thursday, setting it up for a vote on May 8 when the Senate returns from recess.

House Republicans offered their own student loan bill (H.R. 4628) on Wednesday, which passed the House by a vote of 215-195 on Friday. The bill, authored by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), would extend the current 3.4% interest rate for subsidized Stafford student loans for one year, avoiding a scheduled increase to 6.8% on July 1. Speaker Boehner’s bill would cut $12 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, with $6 billion offsetting the cost of the bill and the remaining $6 billion used for federal deficit reduction. Several Republican members referred to the public health fund as a “slush fund,” citing few controls over the HHS Secretary’s freedom to disburse the funding. The White House threatened to veto H.R. 4628 over the cut to the public health fund.

The House Democrats’ student loan interest rate proposal (H.R. 4816), introduced Wednesday, would offset the cost of a one-year extension of current rates by suspending tax benefits for oil and gas companies. Bill sponsor John Tierney (D-MA) called it “a pay-for that the American people can get behind and we can all agree on,” and urged House leadership to bring up the measure for a vote.

On Friday, President Obama issued an executive order aimed at reducing abuses of veterans and their families by institutions of higher education. Though the order will apply to all institutions, for-profit colleges enroll greater percentages of veterans and servicemembers, and receive a disproportionate share of federal military education benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Program, and the Pentagon’s Tuition Assistance Program. Under the president’s executive order, colleges that participate in the Tuition Assistance Program must disclose financial and student outcome information through a “Know Before You Owe” form. The form was developed through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to help inform prospective college students of the likely financial impact of attending college. Colleges enrolling students with GI Bill benefits will be encouraged to participate in the initiative, but it will not be mandatory. The administration also plans to develop a national collection of college financial and student outcome data specific to servicemembers and limit use of the term “GI Bill” in recruitment materials. The executive order will subject veterans’ education benefits administered through the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Defense Department (DOD) to the same anti-abuse regulations as benefits administered through the Education Department. Student recipients of military or veteran education benefits will be able to submit complaints of abuse or other improper activity to a new, centralized system jointly created by the VA, the DOD, and the Education Department, with consultation from the CFPB and the Justice Department. Finally, the order will impose rules regarding access to military institutions by educational recruiters, designed to end abuses including recruiters paying military officials to steer prospective students to their particular institution.

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of April 30, 2012.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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