It appears that the Republican Party has taken over the Senate, and Republicans were elected or re-elected to several key state governorships. What does this mean for students and student loan borrowers? Here are some key things to think about:
- We still have a divided government, which means any student loan reform bill passed by both houses of Congress will still require the signature of the President to become law, and the President has the power to veto any bill he doesn’t like. Congress could override the President’s veto, but that requires a supermajority, which means that Democrats would have to join Republicans in doing so.
- Several student loan reform bills favorable to borrowers that had been proposed in the Senate, including Senator Warren’s student loan refinancing bill, are basically dead. There’s just no way they will even come to a vote in the new Senate.
- The Higher Education Act, which is the underlying federal statute that governs many federal student loan programs, must be reauthorized. It may be (and often has been) used as a vehicle to reform certain financial aid and student loan programs. We have no idea what these reforms may look like, but we got a taste of proposed reforms from the President himself and from the Republican-controlled House earlier this year. Given that the President has shown a willingness to compromise on certain issues, it is quite possible that we may see some big changes to student loan programs (both good and bad) if a compromise is reached.
- The President’s recent proposed expansion of the federal Pay-As-You-Earn repayment program was implemented via executive order, meaning it did not require Congressional input or approval. As of now, I don’t see this proposed expansion changing, although we’ll know more in a year or so.
- On the state level, many state governments (Democratic and Republican) have cut state funding towards higher education during the past 10 years. This has inevitably led to rising tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, forcing students to shoulder more of the cost of higher education. Given the platform of fiscal conservatism that most Republican gubernatorial candidates ran on, I do not anticipate this trend reversing at the state level, and in some states, things may get worse.
Changes in power following a democratic election are a normal and regular occurrence. This is no different. But elections do matter, and this election will matter for student loan borrowers. What will this translate to in terms of real, practical impacts? We’ll just have to wait and see.