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Mr. RUBIO. Mr. President, I have followed with great interest this week the conversation in the Senate about student loans, the issue we are currently on, to proceed to a bill on student loan interest. I have followed it with great interest for a couple of reasons.
First of all, in the State of Florida, obviously, and across the country, there are thousands--maybe hundreds of thousands--of people who either have student loans and are paying them back or are relying on them to go to school in the future. So it is totally an issue that affects the State of Florida, where I come from.
I have a personal interest in the student loan issue as well. I think I have said on the floor before that my parents worked very hard, but they were never able to save enough money to pay for my college education. So I relied on grants and on loans for undergraduate education, but especially for my law school education. I came back to Miami to go to law school. I am glad I went to the University of Miami. I am proud to have gone there, and I think the education I got there, my legal education, was very good. It also happened to be very expensive. I relied on student loans to be able to pay that, so much so that when I graduated from law school in 1996 I graduated with a law degree and a significant amount of student debt that I had accumulated throughout 7 years of study.
In fact, I am still paying one of those loans today. I think--I may be wrong, but I know of one--I know of only one other Senator who is paying student loans right now. I pay, as I have joked in the past, about $723 a month to somebody named Sallie Mae, which is, all joking aside, a servicer that collects on these loans. So it is an issue I understand and care about on a personal level, as well as because of the people I represent.
This issue we are discussing this week has allowed me to use it as a point of illustration to the people back home who are watching this debate. After having spent my first year here, one of the questions I get the most is, What is it like in the Senate?
Let me begin by saying I am honored and privileged to serve here. There isn't a day that I don't walk into this building, even into this very room, and not be taken aback by the history that has been made on this floor, by the great men and women who have served our country from it, and by the wonderful Americans with whom I serve even now. I have bragged to people who are watching or to whom I have spoken that I have never had a bad experience with anyone in the Senate in the year and a half I have been here, and I am very proud to be a part of this institution.
However, there are things about it that trouble me. Particularly, at this moment in American history, and maybe as a result of what is happening this week, circumstances allow me to illustrate that better than any other week since I have been here.
Everyone agrees that interest rates on student loans cannot go up. Everyone agrees. There hasn't been a debate on that. I haven't run into anybody in either party who has come to me and said: Let the interest rate go up. Let students pay more. There isn't any argument about that. The argument is simply this: How do we pay for it? We have to pay for it because if we are going to keep the interest rates down on these federally subsidized loans, we have to pay for it. We have to find the money from somewhere to pay for it. So the debate and the disagreement, to the extent it is a complicated disagreement--and I don't believe it is--the disagreement is not about the student loan interest rate; the disagreement is about how we pay for the cost of keeping the rate low for another year. There is a difference of opinion.
I am new to the Senate. I am not new to legislation. I spent 9 years in the Florida Legislature and 2 years as the Speaker. We dealt with complicated issues there as well. What we would do in those instances where there was a disagreement, not on what we wanted to accomplish but on how to get there, is we worked on it. We would sit people down and say it is not that much money in terms of Federal standards--it sounds crazy to say that because we are talking about billions of dollars--but from a Federal standpoint, it is not that complicated an issue. Let's sit down. Let's get some like-minded people together and let's figure out a bipartisan way to pay for what we all agree we need to do. That is the normal, regular way to deal with an issue such as this.
That is not what has happened. Why hasn't that happened? Why have smart, well-educated, intelligent people who serve in this Chamber not met and discussed a way to pay for this? It is really not that complicated. It wouldn't take that long to come up with a way to pay for it that both sides agree on. Why hasn't that happened?
The answer to that question is something people back home are not going to like, and people who are here today visiting are not going to like to hear, and whoever is watching on television right now isn't going to like. The reason is because that is the way things have been since I have gotten here. It is about politics.
Shocking as that may be, there is politics in this process. That is what is influencing us today.
A few weeks ago, the President made a decision that this was an issue he wanted to use. His campaign folks made a decision that student loan debt and the interest rate was a perfect opportunity to use as, yet again, another wedge issue. The latest wedge issue, and we have seen a series of them, is let's campaign on the idea that Republicans are not in favor of students, and let's use the student loan issue as an example of that. Of course, those plans kind of got messed up when Republicans said: We agree with you. We can't let student interest rates go up either. So they were off balance for a couple of days.
By the way, the President continued to travel the country and campaign on keeping student loan rates down even though no one was against them. He was campaigning against his opponents on this issue even though there were no opponents on this issue.
But, nevertheless, after a couple of days of figuring out they were going to lose this wedge issue, they came up with a second way to deal with it; that is, let's bring this issue to a vote on the Senate floor, but let's build it in such a way--let's put a bill on the floor of the Senate that we know will fail, that we know Republicans can't vote for. It wasn't: let's meet and see where we can agree on how to pay for this so we can get something done. It was:
let's put a bill on the floor that we know Republicans will never support, designed specifically to fail, so we can then spend the week talking about this on the Sunday talk shows and speeches on the floor and missives from the campaign. It is about messaging.
In a country where our national debt now equals the size of our economy; in a country where we are 5, 6 months away from catastrophic increases in taxes; in a country where just last Friday we learned that job creation and job growth is stagnant, where millions of Americans have been out of work for 2 years or longer; in a country where millions of Americans have stopped looking for work because they have become so depressed, the Senate has wasted yet another week on a show when, in fact, this is an easy issue for us to have come together and solved.
This is not new, by the way. This has been the mode of operation here for most of the weeks I have been in the Senate. It is a pretty familiar pattern. The campaign of the President decides on an issue they want to use to divide Americans for electoral purposes, the Senate offers up a bill they know Republicans will vote against, and then they spend a week giving speeches on it. The only difference is they are doubling down: We are going to vote on the exact same thing a second time, just to drive the point home.
Here is why this bothers me. No. 1, there are real issues this country faces, issues that deserve a sense of urgency, issues that deserve every single person who serves here to solve. This is one of them, by the way. We don't have time to waste on shows. It bothers me.
The second reason it bothers me is these are real people who are being impacted by this issue. There are real people out there who, because they can't find a job when they graduate, have to get a forbearance. Forbearance means they have to call their lender and say they can't pay their loans. Do my colleagues know what happens when we get a forbearance on our loans? It compounds. It sits there. It is delayed. It is not delinquent, but it compounds. The interest rate is added to the principal. So by the time a person starts paying it, their loan is even bigger than the loan they took out to go to college.
There are other people who can only afford to make X amount of payments because they are not making as much money. Maybe they didn't find the job they thought they were going to get, so all they can do is pay interest. So that means by the time they finish paying off these loans, their kids will be in college.
Let me tell my colleagues what it means in the real life of someone who has these loans because I still have them. What it means in the life of a person who has a loan such as this is the following: They can't save for their own kids' college, which means not only will they have their student loan debt, but their children will be stuck with it as well.
What bothers me about this issue is that instead of solving it, we have spent the week playing a game with it while real people are out there scared to death--real students, real parents, real families who are facing the threat of not just an increase in the interest rate but of an economy that doesn't have a job for them.
Do we think the interest rate is the biggest risk these people are facing? It is not. The interest rate is a problem. Not having a job is a catastrophe. The interest rate could be zero. If a person doesn't have a job, how are they going to pay it? That is the No. 1 issue facing these graduates. No one is doing anything about it.
Here is what I suggest. If this was a place that was really working to solve problems, what we would have done and what we would do right now is stop this process, go back there somewhere, get a few people together who know how to solve this, and come back here. I guarantee that if we decided we wanted to solve it, it would not take long.
Here is what else I guarantee. This is going to get solved. My colleagues can mark my words. A few weeks from now they will come up with a deal or a bill that will have enough votes to pass the House and Senate, and this will get solved. But not before we score political points, right? This will get solved, but not before the people who care more about politics than policy score their political points on this issue.
Now, look, I have been around politics. I understand this is an election year and election year stuff is going to happen. But why are we playing with the lives of real people? These are real people who are hurting, and their lives and their experiences and their worries are being used as a pawn in a political game. And it is wrong.
I will make another prediction to my colleagues. Next week it will be another wedge issue of the week. Next week we will be right back here with another bill that was designed to fail on purpose so we can get another week's worth of talking points on yet another issue.
The good news is--people in this city, unfortunately, think they are smarter than they really are. People back home know all of this. They can see it for what it is. People aren't dumb. The American people certainly aren't dumb. They can see right through this stuff, and they understand exactly what is happening.
So my suggestion would be that on this issue, let's come together. Let's say this is one of the issues that is so important, that impacts so many people in such a significant way, that it should be above politics. Let's get together over the next 48 hours. It doesn't seem as though this place is overworked when we look around the room.
What are we doing all week? What is going on all week? We voted on a few judges, and we have given a bunch of speeches. Why don't we go somewhere and get a group of people to work on this issue and come back with a solution? This can be solved.
What is going on now is a disservice to the people who sent us here. They deserve better. They really do. The American people deserve better. The people we represent, the people who hired us to do the job we have now, deserve better than this sort of theater. The Senate has become a theater. It has become a show. That is why people get grossed out by politics. That is why people watch the news at night and just don't understand this whole thing. They have a right to be frustrated. They have a right to be upset. They have a right to be impatient with us because nothing is happening on the issues that matter to their real lives.
I hope this pattern will stop. I get it. There are still going to be plenty of other issues we are going to have arguments about during this election year, and that is good for our country that we have a good debate on the issues of the day. But on the ones we can solve, on the ones we agree on that impact the real lives of real people, let's stop the games.
Let's get something done.
Thank you. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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