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Democrats Target College Costs With New Bill

Durbin said he had "limited success" in getting Republicans to sign onto the student loan bill. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Durbin said he had "limited success" in getting Republicans to sign onto the student loan bill. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

A trio of Senate Democrats launched a new push Thursday designed to help reduce the burden of student loan debt.

As the group acknowledged, their proposals face long odds, particularly with Republicans. One piece of the legislative package that may prove most contentious would allow student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy. Other pieces include a proposal to allow more opportunities to refinance existing debt.

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced their plans Thursday on a conference call. Their legislative package, which includes a mix of old and new proposals, is just the latest in a series of offerings from Democrats as 2014 approaches.

Durbin said that he had “limited success” reaching out to the Republican side. “We have to convince our friends on the other side of the aisle that this issue has nothing to do with partisanship. These families, these students … across the political spectrum here, and they need a helping hand,” Durbin said. “We find ourselves in many instances protecting some real bad players in this process.”

“I won’t get off in my riff on for-profit schools, but remember, the for-profit colleges and universities are responsible for 47 percent of the student loan defaults,” said Durbin, who has long been a foe of the for-profit college industry.

“None of us have to explain how badly broken the current system is,” Warren said. “Our kids are getting crushed by student loan debt. So, the price has gone up, the kids take on more debt, and everyone is in trouble.”

“We need to address the rising cost of college and the existing mountain of student loan debt, and there are several things we need to be doing right now.”

On the conference call, Reed highlighted a piece to make colleges and universities financially liable for paying back a portion of the defaulted student loans associated with their institutions.

“They will have to have skin in the game. They will have to make financial judgements based upon how well-informed and how reliable their graduates are in terms of paying back their student loans,” Reed explained. “It provides incentives for institutions to take proactive steps.”

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