Sen. Elizabeth Warren blocks confirmation of Biden education nominee, presses for fed student loan overhauls

Sen. Elizabeth Warren reportedly wants the Biden administration to agree to substantial overhauls of the $1.6 trillion federal student loan program before she joins other Democrats in approving President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead higher education policy, James Kvall. Warren, who’s led calls on the president to cancel up to […]

Sen. Elizabeth Warren reportedly wants the Biden administration to agree to substantial overhauls of the $1.6 trillion federal student loan program before she joins other Democrats in approving President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead higher education policy, James Kvall.

Warren, who’s led calls on the president to cancel up to $50,000 in borrowers’ federal student loan debt, is ramping up pressure for reforms including broader oversight of the companies who service loans, according to The Washington Post and Politico.

On Monday, Warren — and her Massachusetts colleague Sen. Ed Markey and Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota — sent letters to the CEOs of all federal student loan servicers, pressing them for details on how they’re transitioning millions of student loan borrowers back into repayment schedules after COVID-19 pandemic relief that froze payments and interest dries up in October. On Wednesday, Warren and other lawmakers wrote to Biden seeking to extend the pause on payments and interest until at least March 31, 2022.

Earlier this year, Warren took aim at Jack Remondi, CEO of Navient, one of the biggest student loan servicers in the U.S., over what she called “the company’s long history of abusive and misleading behavior toward borrowers and how the company has made millions of dollars by profiting off the broken student loan system.”

She’s pressed the federal government to fire Navient and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Program, which she said mismanaged the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program.

Last month, Warren pressed the Department of Education for answers on plans for new student loan service contracts and an update on the NextGen project — which seeks to modernize technology and improve application and repayment processes for borrowers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and several progressives have joined Warren in pushing Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt. The president has said he’s willing to cancel up to $10,000, and White House chief of staff Ron Klain in April said Biden tasked Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to examine avenues for broader debt relief, up to $50,000 per borrower, according to Forbes. But that effort has appeared to stall as the White House focuses on negotiations with Republicans on roughly $1 trillion in infrastructure spending.

“We’ve been working with senate offices and are encouraged by the conversations and developments around James Kvaal’s nomination,” Vanessa Harmoush, an Education Department spokeswoman, told the Post. “We share the same goals around making the Federal Student Aid office more consumer-friendly and an advocate for student borrowers.”

Earlier this year, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee moved forward with Kvaal’s confirmation in a bipartisan 19-3 vote. For Kvall to get confirmed in the full Senate, split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, there’s a chance Democrats need Warren’s support.

Kvall was a domestic policy adviser to former President Barack Obama and recently served as president of the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success. According to the Post and Politico, he has called for education reforms aligned with Warren’s initiatives, including policies to hold predatory colleges accountable, cutting student debt and making college more affordable, expanding income-based repayment plans and tighter oversight of for-profit colleges. He’s also called for tuition-free community college, which is aligned with Biden’s nearly $2 trillion American Families Plan.

He called for reforms to the federal student loan program during his confirmation hearing testimony in April. “There is a crisis in the student loan program,” he said, according to the Post. “We need to continue to explore ways to provide relief for students under the burden of loan debt, while helping current and future students with affordable options.”

Warren’s office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

A source familiar with the situation told Politico that Warren’s team is in talks with the Biden administration on a “range of necessary reforms in higher education including the administration of the student loan program.”

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