Education Secretary Defends Debt Relief Plan, Blames Obama Administration for Leaving Problem Behind

Education Secretary Defends Debt Relief Plan, Blames Obama Administration for Leaving Problem Behind
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before House Education and Labor Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 12, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Bill Pan
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos endured testy exchanges on Thursday at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing on her plan to overhaul an Obama-era federal student loan forgiveness policy.

DeVos appeared on Capitol Hill after facing lawsuits for her department’s unwillingness to fully wipe out the federal student loans of borrowers who alleged that several for-profit education chains, including the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges, falsely advertised their ties to employers and the transferability of credits. Instead, the Department comes up with a new plan that would provide partial relief to most of the borrowers, based on their present-day income.

“In response to a surge in claims, the Obama administration issued a new Borrower Defense rule to streamline the process for providing relief to defrauded students,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the chairman of the Committee, in his opening statement (pdf). “However, under the present leadership, the Department refused to implement the Borrower Defense rule.”

In response, DeVos blamed Obama administration for intentionally creating the problem and leaving it behind.

“We inherited from the Obama administration more than 64,000 borrower defense claims,” she said, adding that the previous administration made “no process in place” for verifying that these students had actually been defrauded by their schools.

“In fact, the prior administration was encouraging claims to be filed knowing full well it lacked the ability to even accurately track them,” said DeVos in her opening statement. “Rather than deal with the claims, they just walked away and left these tens of thousands [of] claims behind for this administration.”

“No proof was required of the students that she or he had been defrauded?” asked Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the top Republican on the Committee.

“No,” replied DeVos. “There was no process in place for actually considering the claims.”

During the 4-hour-long hearing, the house Democrats barraged DeVos with questions about her commitment to students and taxpayers. “Did you not state at the very beginning of your testimony that students are your No. 1 priority?” asked Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.). “Because listening today, I have a hard time believing that a defrauded borrower would think that you are in their corner.”

“I’ve had some honest disagreement with my friends in the Republican Party about how to move education forward, but I never—not one time—believed that they were out to destroy public education until I met you,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fl.). “You are the most unpopular person in our government.”

Rep. Foxx criticized Wilson’s comment that went personal, calling it “absolutely over the line.”

Several House Republicans came to DeVos’ defend, including Rep. Greg Murphy, also from North Carolina.

“I appreciate you trying to be a good steward because we are striking a balance between individuals that want to better themselves to pursue higher education and also to be one that just doesn’t dole out money just because someone claims that they deserve money,” he said.

“I would probably shake my head at some of the comments and the reasons that some people claim they should be reimbursed or whatever.”