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Education & Labor Committee Republicans

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Kline Seeks Answers About Political Pressure on Colleges and Universities
Raises Questions About Government Advocacy for Federal Takeover of Student Loan Program

Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the top Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, has requested information about the Education Department’s efforts to influence pending legislation that would end private sector-based federal student loans. Kline’s request comes in response to multiple media accounts alleging that department officials have pressed colleges and universities to support the legislation and implement the proposed changes before Congress actually changes the law. 

“The implication that federal funds are being used to push a particular political agenda … is deeply concerning,” Kline wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “It is critical that federal funds provided by Congress be used for their intended purpose and in strict accordance with the law. As you are no doubt aware, White House Counsel Gregory Craig was recently compelled to instruct Administration officials to ‘avoid even the appearance of politicization in order to ensure people’s faith in the actions of the Administration.’ The actions detailed herein appear to cross that line.” 

In his letter, Kline cites media accounts of a conference call in which senior Administration officials are quoted as saying the “voices” of college and university leaders are needed. One media outlet described the call as “part pep rally, part support group – and part lobbying effort.”

Kline further noted that federal law prohibits government agencies from lobbying on behalf of specific legislation. “Such actions could be a violation of the funding limitations included in the Department’s annual appropriation, which contains a prohibition on the use of funds for any activity … that promotes public support for or opposition to any legislative proposal on which Congressional action is not complete, other than to communicate to Members of Congress.”

NOTE: Late last month,National Review’s Stephen Spruiell reported: “The Obama administration is trying to strong-arm America’s colleges and universities into complying with a bill that hasn’t been signed into law yet. … Not only would the switch be bad for students and for taxpayers, it would also create logistical headaches for universities. Many financial-aid professionals have complained that the administration’s timeline is unrealistic. Colleges and universities start putting together financial-aid packages for the fall semester as early as January. ‘They’re saying it’s as simple as throwing a switch,’ Dewey Knight, associate director of financial aid for the University of Mississippi, tells NRO. ‘Well, I’m the guy throwing the switch, and I can tell you it’s not that simple.’ … Knight is one of the few university financial-aid administrators still willing to criticize the administration’s proposal openly. ‘There has been a lot of pressure on aid administrators,’ he says. ‘They’ve tried to go above the administrators’ heads to the university presidents.’”

A number of colleges and universities expressed reservations earlier this year about Democrats’ attempts to eliminate private sector-based student loans.

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