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Student Loan Bill Meeting Challenges Before Senate Vote

September 28, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

As the Senate prepares to begin looking at similar measures recently passed by the House to stop or further regulate bank-based lending, student-loan companies have been looking for ways to lobby for their own cause, spending millions in the process, according to an analysis of federal records done by The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, legislation that would stop lending from the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program in favor of the Department of Education-run Federal Direct Loans Program by July 2010. Student-loan companies have understandably been feeling threatened, and have spent nearly $14 million over the last year and a half lobbying the government to abandon attempts to stop bank-based lending. The country's largest lender Sallie Mae, which handed out about a quarter of the nation's federal student loans last year, spent $2.5 million this year alone, according to the Chronicle. The Senate's version of the legislation could come onto the floor as early as this week.

While the legislation has strong support from the Obama administration, some  Democrats in Congress have voiced concerns about the potential for job losses in states that headquarter private loan agencies. Sallie Mae has reported it would need to lay off about a quarter of its workforce if Congress voted to end bank-based lending. Republican lawmakers have argued more broadly that the student loan industry, while it could use some tweaks, has served college students well and should not go under the control of the federal government.

So does the bill stand a chance? The Obama administration would like it to be a sure thing, as legislation to limit bank-based lending was a campaign promise during election season. The Congressional Budget Office claims it would save taxpayers around $87 billion, but that's a figure disputed by Republican lawmakers. Colleges and admissions officials seem to be on the fence, worried mainly about any delays in financial aid funding for their neediest students and potential costs to schools' already tight budgets. The bill's proponents argue that savings from the legislation would either go toward overhauling the financial aid system or higher education programs. While the Obama administration has urged lawmakers to avoid interactions with special interest groups, the upcoming arguments on the Senate floor will determine whether those lobbying dollars swayed any opinions.


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