Higher Education Bill Needs More Homework, House Republicans Say

June 15, 2018 Emily Wilkins
  • Measure whipped this week, not yet ready for floor time
  • Sticking points include helping disadvantaged attend college

A bill to update dozens of aspects of higher education still needs some more work to better its chances of passage with GOP-only votes, according to interviews with more than a dozen House Republicans.

House leadership whipped the bill (H.R. 4508) for the first time on Tuesday night. Whip tallies aren’t made public, but the sponsors of the bill see their next step as continuing to educate members, especially those who have heard from colleges in their districts expressing concerns about the legislation.

The measure, yet to be scheduled for floor debate, would simplify the federal student loan program and streamline options students have for repaying their loans. It also removes several federal regulations and sets standards for how colleges and universities should handle free speech policies and sexual assault allegations on campus. The measure probably won’t get many votes from Democrats.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a deputy whip, said there were still a number of questions and concerns, including changes to a program that helps disadvantaged students attend college, known as TRIO.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the Rules Committee, also said some tweaks would be needed and he has contacted the bill’s sponsor, Education and the Workforce Committee leader Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).

“I just talked to Chairwoman Foxx and she indicated there’s a good bit of work to do,” Sessions told Bloomberg Government on Wednesday, adding he wrote Foxx a letter on the measure because “we think she can improve the bill just a little bit.”

Foxx’s panel approved the 600-page bill along party lines in December 2017, less than two weeks after it was introduced.

Underlying Issues

Among the lawmakers raising objections. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said she would oppose the bill and cited concerns from colleges and universities. Several groups representing college and universities slammed the bill saying it wold leave students worse off financially. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen(R-Fla.) said lawmakers from districts with a large Hispanic population were “concerned, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) said he’s leaning toward opposing the bill because it would end a program that discharges loans for public sector and nonprofit workers if they made payments on the loans for 10 years.

“I like a lot of the bill, but I have concerns with the loan forgiveness,” he said.

Gibbs isn’t the only one in his caucus who wants to keep the loan forgiveness. In April, 13 House Republicans, not including Gibbs, sent a letter to Foxx asking to preserve the program.

Still more lawmakers have yet to decide how they will vote on the measure. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who heads the House Freedom Caucus, said members of the conservative and libertarian group have had several briefings on the bill without taking an official position so far.

Continued Education

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), who co-sponsored the bill with Foxx, said the committee decided to revise programs such as loan forgiveness for a reason and it needed to continue to educate members on the bill.

“Members who aren’t on the committee are hearing from their local schools saying ‘We don’t like this,’ and we have to continue to explain the bill to them,” he said. “I’m not saying they’ll agree, but at least you can explain why we’re doing stuff the way we’re doing it.”

Foxx, who has held conversations with members to explain the bill over the last several months will continue those discussions, said a spokeswoman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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