Senate Votes Down Debt-Relief Restrictions in Bipartisan DeVos Rebuke

WASHINGTON (CN) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos united both sides of the aisle, but not on her side, as the Senate voted Wednesday to shield debt-relief rules put in place under former President Barack Obama.

With 10 Republicans on board, the 53-42 vote blocks an attempt by DeVos to limit debt relief for students who were deceived about the kind of career and salary expectations their expensive degrees could fetch.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on March 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

After DeVos finalized her so-called Borrower Defense Rule last year, the Institute for College Access & Success published an analysis showing that her plan would forgive loans tied to misconduct for just 3% of students, as compared with 53% students in the Obama plan.

Set to take effect July 1, the DeVos rule set a higher threshold for students to achieve loan forgiveness, among other changes, including a new formula for those who did qualify making only obtain partial relief possible.

Representative Susie Lee, a Nevada Democrat, said at a press conference Wednesday following the vote that Devos had made it “virtually impossible for a student who was purposefully defrauded by a predatory school to get relief.”

“Right now, in our country, after rampant misconduct of schools like ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges and Dream Center, 350,000 students cannot become part of our economy because they’re waiting to get this debt relieved,” Lee said. She noted that many of these students are veterans, are considered minorities or are low-income.

“Without accountability, predatory schools will continue to prey on unsuspecting students,” Lee said.

White House Press Secretary Angela Morabito blasted Wednesday’s vote, asserting that Senate Republicans were “fooled by misinformation from the Left and the fake-news narrative.”

As for whether Trump will back his secretary, Morabito said only that the rule crafted by DeVos protected students as well as taxpayers, community colleges and historically black institutions “from undue harm.”

“Instead of the department picking winners and losers, and targeting its political enemies, our rule ensures equitable treatment of all institutions,” Morabito said.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said he doesn’t believe the president will sign the resolution.

“More likely is he’ll veto it,” Durbin said.

This would send the measure back to the House of Representatives, where Durbin noted the 69 votes needed for an override would require 10 Republicans to cross the aisle.

National Education Association president Lily García said in a statement that educators around the country are calling on to Trump support the Senate vote.

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate is a victory for students and shows, once again, just how out of touch Betsy DeVos’ agenda is with the American people,” Garcia said.

DeVos’ 2019 rollback sparked multiple lawsuits, and the groups Project on Predatory Student Lending and Public Citizen applauded the Senate for its rebuke.

“The new rule would make it nearly impossible for cheated borrowers to get their loans discharged,” Toby Merrill, the project’s director, said in a statement. “This is contrary to the letter and spirit of the law, and is clearly unacceptable to borrowers across the country, and their congressional leaders.”

Durbin called at the conference for debt relief to have a fair standard.

“We don’t want your life ruined because some school lied to you about the education they were promising or the loans you’re taking out,” he said.

“It’s not the students’ fault at all,” Durbin continued. “Think about it — you’re 19 or 20 years old, you’re sitting across from a desk, and someone’s asking you to sign some forms. And the next thing you know, you’re $10,000 in debt, and in six months it’s another $10,000, and pretty soon it’s a huge amount of money that ends up really deciding what your life’s going to be.”

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