The Senate on Thursday, in a real sense, filibustered the future. A Republican minority set themselves up as a roadblock against college students struggling to pay for their education and establish financial stability.
A narrow, 51-vote majority in the Senate supported legislation that would have kept student loan rates from increasing above 3.4 percent for the next two years, and would have covered the costs to the government by ending two tax breaks enjoyed by wealthy individuals and one used by oil companies. Nonetheless, in a Senate in which the filibuster has become routine, Republicans united to block debate and an up-or-down vote on the bill.
Since all it takes is 40 votes to keep a bill from getting a full airing on the Senate floor and then either approval or defeat by majority vote on its merits, Republicans can continue their scorched-earth obstruction. They could not get majority support for their own proposal on student loans – their bill that would have increased student loan rates to 3 percentage points above the 10-year Treasury rate, currently 1.75 percent, only received 40 votes – but they can keep Democrats from implementing popular, populist solutions that will better benefit students.
If anything, we should be going out of our way to make going to college as debt-free as possible. That's why it is tragic that the best legislative solution to the college-debt crisis – Sen. Elizabeth Warren's bill that would take student loan rates down to 0.75 percent, the same rate as overnight loans to the big, money-center banks – did not even get a vote on Thursday.
Today, we've launched an updated petition demanding Congress approve that bill. We need to see who really stands with college students and the principle that we should be investing in them, not crushing them with debt.
The Senate should hear your disapproval right now.
Unless Congress acts, interest rates on student loans will double, to 6.8 percent, starting July 1. This is unacceptable at time when student loan debt exceeds $1 trillion – more than the nation's credit-card debt – and when college graduates are facing either high unemployment or low wages at record levels. It's also a travesty in the context of declining state financial support for college education in most of the country.
The overhang of student debt is a drag on the economy – college students are not buying houses, new cars, and other big-ticket items – and discourages graduates from going into professions, such as teaching or primary-care medicine, where they are desperately needed but the pay would not enable them to pay off their loans quickly.
The least we could have done was to keep the status quo in place for two years, perhaps enough time to shake the Congress out of its dysfunction so that it can go about the business of helping solve the nation's economic crises. But instead the Republicans once again set themselves up as a roadblock, imperiling the futures of millions of college students while protecting the oil interests and millionaires from having to give up a single dime wrested through their manipulation of the tax code.
But we can do better, by giving the students who are the bedrock of our future the same break we give economic predators like Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Sign this petition to register your support for giving students the same interest rate we're giving the big banks.
Yes, this is outrageous, but there is still hope. Last year around this time, Republicans were shamed into accepting a one-year freeze on student loan rates after they tried to push through legislation that would have increased rates. We can win again – but only with the same expression of grassroots outrage that humbled the obstructionists last year.