By passing a student loan bill that raises rates in the very near future, the Senate showed a lack of compassion for students that didn’t seem possible.
The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act passed the Senate with a vote of 81-18 (45 Republican votes, 35 Democrats, and Sen. Angus King, the independent from Maine). With the passage of this bill Senate leaders have done everything they said they wouldn’t, and ignored everything student groups have been urging them to do.
This deal will leave students vulnerable to rates as high as 8.25 percent and 9.5 percent. Senators claim it will lower rates. But it would immediately upon enactment set rates a projected half-percentage point above where they were on June 30 and, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the rates by 2017 will be higher than the current rate of 6.8 percent. Four years – that’s not the long-term.
This was not the deal we wanted for our students, and not the deal students wanted for themselves.
Senators had the chance to pass two amendments that would have improved the bill slightly – one from Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would bring the interest rate cap down from 8.25 percent to 6.8 percent, and one from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would make the proposed bill only a two-year fix, ensuring that it was only temporary while Congress works towards a better solution. A majority of senators shot down both these amendments.
Both the White House and Republican senators managed to convince Democratic senators such as Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that this “bipartisan compromise” was the only solution. And now our students are stuck with a bad deal possibly for the next 10 years, unless Democrats can come up with a fix during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (which Harkin promises to do). He has ordered a Government Accountability Office report of the cost of student loan programs, in order to build an argument for revising them in the future.
So the fight is not over. This bad deal doesn’t have to be permanent. When the Higher Education Act comes up for reauthorization in the fall, Warren and Harkin have already promised to fight for a comprehensive solution to the student loan problem.
Warren has made clear that this is just the first part of the battle. We need to keep up the pressure on Senate Republicans through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and stand behind the student groups in order to create a deal for students that keeps rates low for the long term – not just until 2017.