By Representative Judy Biggert
Higher education is not just a goal for students; it's a national priority that will keep the U.S. economically competitive in the global marketplace. Unfortunately, that priority could soon become another victim of election-year gridlock.
Unless Congress acts, on July 1, the interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans will jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. According to a recent AP report, half of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and this hike threatens to create yet another financial headache for 7.4 million students at the worst possible time. That's why the House approved a bill to keep rates low and offset the $6 billion cost with spending cuts.
Unfortunately, the president threatened to veto our legislation because it eliminates a slush fund created by his signature health care law. Meanwhile, Senate leaders tried and failed to pass an alternative measure to freeze rates by raising taxes. Parents I speak with are concerned. Our kids are moving back home after college for want of a paycheck, and Washington's tax-and-spend agenda is hurting -- not helping -- job creation.
We shouldn't add to the problem when we can cut waste. And, make no mistake, the president's "prevention" fund is unnecessary. It finances anti-obesity and anti-smoking campaigns; other expenditures have included neutering stray animals to make jogging paths safer. Even the president proposed cutting it by $4 billion in 2013. Still, I and my House colleagues remain ready and willing to consider alternatives. What we cannot do is allow students to pay for Washington's mistakes. The Senate is debating a new alternative proposal but has not scheduled a vote. The bipartisan consensus is there. We all want to help students succeed. It's time to set aside election-year games and find a solution that works.