Mr. COURTNEY. Mr. Speaker, in 45 days, the interest rate on the Stafford Student Loan program is going to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
As millions of American families know, the Stafford Student Loan program is the workhorse for middle class students trying to pay for college. It is a program which has an affordable interest rate. It provides protections for students so that interest doesn't accumulate while you're actually in school. It provides a grace period after you graduate. And it also has a cap in terms of how much of your income has to be devoted to Stafford loan repayments.
In 2007, as a freshman Member of Congress, I was proud to have been a cosponsor of the College Cost Reduction Act, which cut that rate from 6.8 to 3.4 percent. It was a 5-year bill, like many measures that Congress passes; and that expiration, that sunset, will occur on July 1, 45 days from today, when that rate will double back to 6.8 percent.
Last week the Senate made an attempt to try and take up legislation to protect that lower rate. Sadly, the Republican minority used the filibuster rule to block not even just the bill, but even a debate on the bill. I repeat: they didn't even use the filibuster rule as a block of all Republicans to vote against the measure. They actually used the filibuster to even allow consideration of debate.
And, again, the leader in the Senate made it very clear if they had alternatives to the Senate bill which would protect the lower rate, they were more than free to offer their own amendments.
So here we are today, with students trying to plan for next fall's college, with kids getting their acceptance letters for next year, and yet they have no ability to budget or plan in terms of what the interest rate for this workhorse program to pay for college allows.
Now, how did we get to this place?
As I indicated, in 2007 we cut the rate. Back in January, President Obama stood at that very podium and challenged Congress to not allow the rate to double. For three solid months, nothing happened in this Chamber. There was not a single hearing at the Education and Workforce Committee. There was not a bill for markup. The only action was legislation that I proposed. H.R. 3826, which has over 150 cosponsors in this Chamber, on a bipartisan basis, which would lock in that rate permanently, has never been taken up for consideration.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Speaker Boehner who, by the way, voted
against the College Cost Reduction Act in 2007, rushed to the floor a bill for a 1-year Band-Aid, and used as a pay-for depleting resources and funds from a program that would help folks with heart, cardiac, cervical cancer screening, diabetes screening, early childhood disease screening. They took money out of that fund to help desperate Americans to try and put a 1-year fix on the student loan issue.
President Obama made it very clear that bill is a dead letter. A veto threat was issued even before we voted in this Chamber. So here we are 45 days away waiting for action.
H.R. 3826, a measure which permanently locks in the lower rate, is at least a first step in terms of dealing with the crisis in this country of student loan debt, which now exceeds credit card debt and car loan debt. We have an issue here which threatens the future viability of this country to succeed and compete in the world global economy where we need a cutting-edge workforce if we're ever going to succeed in the future.
Forty-six days from today we are going to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing into law a measure called the Moral Act. The Moral Act set up a national policy establishing land grant colleges in all 50 States in this country. Back then its mission was to establish programs for mechanical engineering and agricultural sciences.
What an amazing act of vision and leadership. In the darkest days of the Civil War, 1862, President Lincoln still had the long view and understood that if, as a Nation, we are going to succeed, we need a national policy for higher education. And in his wake, the Stafford loan program was created, sponsored by a Republican, Robert Stafford of Vermont. The Pell Grant program was established by Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, all to provide the building blocks so that young people have that opportunity and the ability to pursue their dreams and to pursue their skill set, the true key of success in this Nation.
We are a Nation that is blessed with great natural resources. We have the greatest military in the world. We have great financial institutions. But the real success of this country is our broad-based middle class where education provides the foundation for families and students to succeed.
That clock is ticking. I started this running at 110 days, and we're now down to 45 days. It is time for the Senate Republicans to drop the filibuster, allow consideration of the bill to help middle class families as they deal with next year's tuition costs, and pass H.R. 3826 in the House of Representatives.