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Checklist for Change

Location: Washington, DC

CHECKLIST FOR CHANGE -- (Senate - June 28, 2006)


Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I thank my colleague, Senator Murray from Washington, for her eloquent statement about the state of veterans affairs in our country and to make sure that those who patriotically served our country are taken care of in their time of need.

Many of my colleagues are here--and I appreciate being with my women Senate Democratic colleagues--to talk about our checklist for change and talk about the important issues we believe Congress and the Senate should be focusing on. But I know that people all across my State are wondering what we are doing here in the few days left before our Fourth of July recess.

In fact, one of the newspapers in my State basically said: If Members don't have better things to do than some of the proposals they have been bringing up to amend the Constitution, then we should just go home. Or, as one newspaper said: The checklists that we have been dealing with are full of political gimmicks and not national needs.

I would like to say that these are the national needs that we ought to be dealing with, and making college education affordable for all is a huge priority. As we have spoken out on this issue as a group of women Senators talking about the checklist for change, I am now hearing from students all over America who are feeling the same pinch.

A student from Central Washington University said: Like many others, I am feeling the cuts that affect financial aid.

Even students from outside the State of Washington are e-mailing me. One student from the University of Florida basically said they were coming here to Capitol Hill soon with their full group of presidents and vice presidents and student vice presidents. They reminded me that:

We are the future of America, and we must ensure that future by making sure students, regardless of wealth or other socioeconomic factors, have access to a good college education.

Mr. President, I couldn't agree with that student from the University of Florida more, and I look forward to seeing them in their efforts here on Capitol Hill to be successful.

But we are here this morning because we all know the best way to secure a good job is a quality education, and we know that the doors to educational opportunity are slamming shut for many Americans. This is something that is very personal to me as somebody who went to school on financial aid, and I can literally say I don't think I would be in the Senate or have been a successful executive at a business enterprise if I didn't have access to that good college education.

We can't let college education become a privilege for just a few of the wealthy, and we have to make sure that families and students can afford college, regardless of their financial resources.

Let me just lay out a few facts. Since 2001, the cost of a public higher education has increased by a staggering 46 percent. In Washington State alone, tuition costs at 4-year public schools have spiked, an increase of 63 percent since the fall of 2000. Tuition costs are skyrocketing, but family income, particularly of those with college-age students, has only risen about 3.4 percent between 2000 and 2003. So the challenge is we haven't seen income opportunities go up, but yet the cost of education has gone up. So while those costs have soared, almost 350,000 Washington students have basically had their Federal financial aid slashed. And families have to tell their children they can't afford to send them to college this year or next.

Well, I can tell you, Mr. President, that is unacceptable. We need to do better to make sure that we make college education affordable.

What have we been doing? Last January, we had the largest raid on student financial aid I have ever seen. The legislation that was passed by this body cut $12.7 billion straight from student loan programs, the biggest single cut in the history of the Federal student loan program. That was coming on top of the President's budget, which basically also proposed a $2.2 billion cut in the Education Department budget, which is the largest cut in the Education Department in 26 years of history.

So we are here this morning, and this Senator is here, because we believe we need a new direction. Today we are standing here to challenge Congress to act now in the best interests of American students, America's families, and certainly for the competitiveness of America's future economy. We challenge this Congress to make college education more affordable now, to help families save for college education.

Specifically, we are asking the leadership to make a priority legislation that would increase the Coverdell education savings account contribution to $5,000 and let families make that tax deduction contribution to help them pay for that increase in college education; secondly, to make the college tuition tax deduction permanent, making it possible for families to put money into education and not feel the pinch; third, to pass my ``GI Bill for Life'' legislation that gives those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who served in our military the opportunity to complete their college education and get the financial support, as they have supported our country, no matter how long it takes for them to complete that course in education.

It is time that we invest in the future of America and provide Americans the next opportunity of leadership in our economy by giving them access to a good education. We can act now and we can pass these legislative issues before Congress adjourns this year. We hope this checklist for change will be a priority--not some of the issues we have been focusing on, but a real checklist to get busy with the priorities and needs of American families.

Now I would like to yield the floor for my colleague, Senator Lincoln, who is going to talk about the affordability of health care in America.

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