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Oregon Democrat sees flaws in pending renewal of federal aid to college students; business CEO seeks easier path for businesses to obtain needed capital.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and her hosts at Mirador had different things to talk about during her recent visit to the small-business lending platform in Portland.

For Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, it was the flaws in a pending renewal of federal aid to higher education — particularly the changes backed by Republicans that she views as narrowing the opportunities for students to obtain aid.

For Trevor Dryer, chief executive of the 4-year-old company, it was an opportunity to talk about how small businesses can navigate federal regulations and financial institutions to gain access to capital.

It was Bonamici's first visit to Mirador, although Dryer met last fall with some of her staff and federal regulators in Washington, D.C.

"For us, this is about building relationships with our federal representatives and thinking through some things that can help small business gain access to capital," Dryer said afterward.

"So much of this is tied up in regulation of the financial sector, and helping our federal officials understand the effect that some regulations have on small businesses, for good or bad."

Though Bonamici does not sit on the House Financial Services Committee, her first job after she earned her law degree was working on consumer-credit issues with the Federal Trade Commission. Later, while in the Oregon Senate from 2009 until she was elected to Congress six years ago, she led the Consumer Protection and Public Affairs Committee.

Mirador is an online go-between for small businesses seeking capital and the banks and credit unions with capital to lend.

Dryer said small-business owners expressed frustration not only with rejection of requests, but also the slow responses and the lack of justification for the decisions.

"It did not seem to be a good way of doing things," he said. "We can help streamline the process and get them more customers and make these loans profitable."

Bonamici said she supports congressional attempts to raise a 20-year-old cap on credit union lending to small-business members. The cap is 12.25 percent of assets, but exempts loans of $50,000 or less.

"We have not been able to get that across the finish line because the banks do not like it," she said.

Dryer said he also would like to see faster responses by the Treasury — and the Internal Revenue Service — for tax data to enable lending institutions to process applications more quickly.

But Bonamici said not to expect that soon, given the sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code that Congress passed in December — without a single Democratic vote for it — and its implementation date of Jan. 1, barely 10 days after President Donald Trump signed it.

"It's going to be chaotic without additional staff at the Treasury" that Republicans did not approve, she said. "Asking the Treasury to do something else rapidly right now is tough."

Student aid future

Bonamici does sit on two other U.S. House committees, Education and the Workforce, and Science, Space and Technology.

During her hour-long meeting with the Mirador staff, among them young software engineers, Bonamici drew a contrast between student aid then and now.

"I was able to pay back my student loans on a public-sector salary," she said. "I do not hear that from too many people today."

She said the House's pending renewal of the Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965 to expand federal aid to college students, "has overcorrected flaws."

The bill (HR 4508) passed the House education committee on a party-line vote Dec. 12, less than two weeks after Republicans presented it, and awaits action by the full House.

It does some things Bonamici likes: Simplify the application form for federal student aid, consolidate some duplicative loan programs, and realign the work-study program.

"It's important to have workers in the college cafeteria," she said. "But it's also important for low-income students, who cannot do internships that may be unpaid or do not pay much, to have that experience in the field they are interested in."

On the other hand, she said, she dislikes provisions to end loan forgiveness for students who choose public service, curtail the availability of income-driven loan repayments, and limit loan programs generally.

"I am not happy with what is in the bill for the most part," she said.

"I share the concerns … that this is going to make it harder for low-income minority students to gain access to higher education. This bill needs a lot of work, but there is potential."

The relevant committee in the Senate, where Republicans have a one-vote majority over Democrats, is likely to come up with a different bill. Its top Democrat is Washington state's Patty Murray.

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