IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Big Question Feedback: Do-Nothing Congress Edition

This past Sunday, we asked what issues people thought Congress should focus on in September. One re-occurring answer: student loan debt.
Image: A graduate at Northwest Florida State College's commencement
File photo of a graduate at Northwest Florida State College, May 10, 2014. Nick Tomecek / AP

Last week's "Big Question" was:

Many of the responses leaned towards angry, but humorous. Kevin Richardson wrote that legislators should focus on, “Retirement, their own.” And Randy Fagan responded, “Can they please not come back. We do better without them.”

But multiple people wanted the House and Senate to tackle something that Washington has actually worked on recently: The cost of higher education and student loan debt.

There is bipartisan agreement in DC that student loan debt is out of control. According to the College Board’s 2013 “Trends in Student Aid” report, “About 60% of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011-12 from the public and private nonprofit institutions at which they began their studies graduated with debt. They borrowed an average of $26,500.”

In June, through executive action, President Obama announced an expansion of a program that helps those with federal education loans cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income. However, that expansion wouldn’t go into effect until 2015. Currently, the program is only available to people who were new borrowers after October 1, 2007 and had actually received a disbursement on or after October 1, 2011. When the expansion happens, it could affect about five million people.

While the president’s go-it-alone attitude annoys the GOP, there were bipartisan moves just last month that resulted in the House of Representatives passing a trio of bills related to higher education. H.R.3136, H.R.4983, and H.R.4984 attempt to develop a program to explore more flexibility with “competency-based” education, make the costs of college more transparent, and increase the availability of financial counseling for student borrowers.

The passage of these bills is seen as the beginning of an attempt to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which controls how the federal government runs student aid programs.

So what should you look for for when Congress comes back?

1. Does the Senate takes up these bills before the end of this legislative session and embrace the House’s tendency towards a piecemeal approach to re-authorization?

2. Or does the Senate try to pass a more comprehensive overhaul of the Higher Education Act and will the House be receptive to that?

We'll see if Congress makes any moves in September or, more likely, during the lame duck session in December.

Jessica Barreto and Evan Dixon contributed to this report.