|H.R. 2117, the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act, passed by 303 votes to 114 (roll call). Every House Republican present voted for this bill, including Iowans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-03). House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair John Kline argued that the bill would help reduce college tuition. Pete Kasperowicz reported for The Hill,
But Democrats disagreed, and said repealing the two 2010 rules in question would have little direct effect on tuition costs. One of the rules sets out federal guidelines state officials must follow when authorizing schools to operate in their state, and the other sets out a nation-wide definition for "credit hour" - both must be met for educational institutions to participate in federal aid programs.
Democrats also argued that the rules were meant to help ensure that federal education aid is directed to legitimate educational programs.
"This seems like a simple proposition: making sure taxpayers and students aren't getting ripped off," Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member George Miller (D-Calif.) said. "This legislation eliminates those important consumer protections, and it does so under the banner of academic freedom."
Instead of passing H.R. 2117, Democrats said the House should be focusing on ways to reduce student loan rates, which are expected to double starting July 1 unless Congress acts to keep the rates down.
Before the final vote on passage, the House rejected several Democratic-backed amendments and a motion to recommit.
• Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), to retain a current requirement that states have a process for hearing student complaints about the validity of educational institutions. Failed 170-247.
• Jared Polis (D-Colo.), to link the state authorization regulations to student outcomes. Failed by voice vote.
• Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), to strip language that permanently prevents the secretary of Education from ever issuing a rule setting out a federal definition of "credit hour." Failed 150-255.
• Polis, to require the secretary of Education to present an alternative plan to prevent waste, fraud and abuse to ensure the effective use of taxpayer dollars. Failed 199-217.
As I mentioned above, Iowans Braley, Loebsack, and Boswell were among 69 House Democrats who voted for H.R. 2117. Yet in contrast to Latham and King, all three Iowa Democrats voted for the motion to recommit. Braley and Boswell also voted for every Democratic amendment rejected by roll-call votes. Loebsack voted for the failed amendments proposed by Polis and Grijalva but against the Bishop amendment.
On a related note, Braley has repeatedly urged Congress to prevent an increase in federally subsidized student loan rates. I expect this to become a theme of Braley's re-election campaign, whether or not Congress addresses the issue before July 1. From a Braley press release of January 25:
After President Obama used his State of the Union address last night to call on Congress to stop the looming spike in student loan interest rates, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) introduced legislation today to indefinitely keep the interest rate for federally subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent, their current, low rate.
Unless Congress takes action, student loan interest rates will double to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2012. Such an increase would mean a student taking out the maximum Stafford student loan of $23,000 would pay an additional $11,000 of interest over the 20 year repayment period of the loan.
Tomorrow and Friday, Braley is visiting colleges and universities across eastern Iowa to host campus forums on the state of higher education. The open forums will focus on college affordability, mounting student loan debt, and employability after graduation.
"Iowa college graduates have the 3rd highest student debt load in the nation," Braley said. "Piling thousands of dollars more in debt on them puts Iowa students even further behind at graduation.
"Congress needs to act immediately to stop the July spike in student loan interest rates. Our colleges and universities are avenues of economic opportunity. If America is to succeed in the global economy, we need to keep higher education attainable and affordable for every person who wants to attend."
In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act which lowered federally subsidized Stafford student loan rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Because this act expires on July 1st, 2012, federally subsidized student loan interest rates will return to 6.8 percent without Congressional action.
Text of the bill Rep. Braley introduced today can be found at the following link: http://go.usa.gov/nTH
From a Braley press release on February 7:
Washington, DC - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today urged House leaders to begin working immediately to pass legislation to stop the looming increase in federally subsidized student loan interest rates. Unless Congress acts, student loan interest rates will double to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2012.
Last month, Braley introduced a bill to indefinitely keep the interest rate for federally subsidized Stafford loans at their current rate of 3.4 percent.
"Iowa college graduates have the 3rd highest student debt load in the nation," Braley said. "Piling thousands of dollars more in debt on them puts Iowa students even further behind at graduation. Our colleges and universities are avenues of economic opportunity, and we need to keep higher education affordable for every person who wants to attend.
"That's why I'm urging House leaders to begin working now to pass legislation keeping student loan rates low. After witnessing the debacle over extending the middle class tax cut, we don't need college affordability to devolve into another down-to-the-wire partisan shouting match."
Braley made the request in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, which can be read below and downloaded at the following link: http://go.usa.gov/QrW