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Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise to express deep concern on behalf of families and students all across Michigan who are very upset at the vote earlier today where we did not get enough votes--the supermajority needed to be able to get beyond the filibuster that is going on on the floor by colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and therefore we can't actually get to the vote on the bill that would lower or maintain the lower student loan interest rates for students all across America and certainly in Michigan.

We know what will happen July 1 if we can't get beyond this. We actually have a majority of Members, 53 Members. I am very proud that all of our Members on this side of the aisle voted, in fact, to support the effort to maintain the low student loan interest rate. We didn't have the supermajority because it takes bipartisan votes to be able to get there and overcome the filibuster on the other side of the aisle. But we have enough votes, and we just want to vote. We have enough votes to be able to pass this bill, the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act. We have enough votes, and we just need to have the opportunity to be able to vote.

What does this mean for middle-class families and students in Michigan and all across the country? We are at a time when middle-class families are struggling to make ends meet and no more so than in Michigan, where we have gone through the deepest recession for the last decade of anyplace in the country. We need to be making college more affordable for Michigan students and students across America and their parents, not less affordable. We ought to be doing what will actually add to what we have done to support lower interest rates, more access to student loans, not taking that away, which is what is happening right now on the floor of the Senate because of the filibuster.

Higher education costs are already rising. Michigan students are graduating with mountains of student debt while high school graduates are being priced out of the opportunity to be able to go to college. In fact, the average Michigan student is graduating with over $25,000 in student debt. That is a heck of a place to start when you come out of college and you are looking for a job and trying to get started in a professional life or trying to continue your professional life and at the same time support your family. That is a lot of money. And we should not be adding to that, because we are talking about additional debt on top of that $25,000 average if, in fact, we can't pass this bill.

We have right now more than 300,000 Michigan students--those who have borrowed money because they believe in themselves, they believe in the future, and they want to get the skills and the degrees they need to be able to go into the workplace, to be successful for themselves and their families--300,000 students who are going to see their Stafford student loan interest rate double if we don't pass this bill.

We need a sense of urgency, like every single family feels right now that finds themselves burdened by loans. They made the decision, and we have been supportive of that, making loans available and lowering the interest rate over the last several years so more people can go to college and be able to get the skills they need and be able to be successful in the workplace. We should be continuing to support that and doing even more to help them lower the cost, not allowing the student loan interest rate to double come July 1.

Folks in Michigan are scratching their heads right now. Let me share stories I have received. I have received a lot of input, a lot of stories from people not only throughout today but before today, but certainly folks who watched the vote this afternoon are horrified at what this means personally to them, for their children or for their families. We have received a number of e-mails to our office, and I am very thankful to people who are sharing their stories. I would like to share just a few of them on the floor of the Senate.

Liz from Traverse City wrote:

PLEASE, please don't let them raise the interest rates on student loans. I have two sons at MSU and I'm a single mom. I work a full time and 2 part-time jobs and they work, and without the Federal loans they wouldn't be able to go to college--even with the full MET I worked on all their lives.

So she put money into a Michigan program to be able to save money and put money aside. But this is somebody who is working one job and two part-time jobs on top of her full-time job, and her sons are working, and they still have student loans to be able to piece it together to be able to go to college.

She said:

Please help--our 3 person family is working very hard to get through school.

And I would suggest that they are. And, Liz, thank you for caring about your sons and working as hard as you are working.

We need to make sure we don't add costs to Liz and her two sons in July. On top of everything they are doing to be able to create an opportunity for those two sons to be able to go to college, to be able to have a better life and a future for themselves, we shouldn't be adding costs to them.

Lars from Ann Arbor wrote:

As a student at the University of Michigan, I find it hard to keep up with current events, but I try in earnest, and this is an issue that affects me more than most others at this time. I'm footing the bill for my college education largely myself, as my mother and father--a high school art teacher and GM retiree, respectively--do what they can to help in the short term. I'd like you to work on behalf of keeping the interest rates lower.

So Lars is going to the University of Michigan--a great university--and he is footing most of his college bill himself. His mom, a teacher, and his dad, a GM retiree, are doing what they can to help, but he has to have student loans. Why on Earth would we be adding to his costs come July when he is working very hard, with the support of his family, to be able to create a great life with a great education from a great university?

Kasondra from Grand Blanc wrote:

I am not what they consider a `typical' student. I am a single mom of two obtaining my bachelor's degree in Social Work. As a student and as a mother, I am attempting to lift myself and my family out of poverty by doing the right thing, getting a college education. While it has been tough and there are days I wished I could give up, I am pursuing my dream, and I will be graduating with honors in one year. If the rate increase happens, I cannot afford paying back my student loans while raising two children. Please, do not let the interest rate expire on July 1.

Kasondra, congratulations for all you are doing as a single mom of two, as you said, lifting your family out of poverty. We in Michigan are a tough bunch. We don't give up. But I know how hard it can be trying to hold it all together during these times, and I want to thank you for doing that. And you are absolutely right, it would really be outrageous to see the interest rate on your loans when you are graduating next year with honors--congratulations for that. But to be able to know that you are going to at least have the interest rate on your loans continue as they have been I know would be a relief and a help to you.

Angelica from Ypsilanti wrote:

My name is Angelica, I am a 40 year old mother of three who has returned to school to finally get my degree. I have recently been accepted at Eastern Michigan University and am starting classes in June. Without affordable student loans I would not be able to attend school. I want to make a positive difference. Getting my degree will give me and my family a better standard of living and get out of the terrible cycle of poverty. This bill is critical to making the dream of higher education a reality for Americans and ensuring our workforce is prepared to compete in a 21st century global economy.

Angelica, again, congratulations. As a mom of three, 40 years old, making the decision to go back to school, getting accepted, creating a plan for how you are going to be able to use student loans and be able to hold it all together financially as you are moving forward, it is really outrageous to think that there is a filibuster going on right now to stop us from voting on something that would help you.

We have the votes. This is not about whether we have the votes to maintain the low interest rate. We have the votes. We are being blocked procedurally from getting to the vote, and that is something that is very hard for me to understand.

Michael in Mount Pleasant wrote:

I am a student at Central Michigan University studying Information Technology and I am also putting myself through school by whatever means possible. The amount of student loan debt I will have to pay after a 4-year degree casts a looming shadow. We are always taught to look toward the future and to jump at any opportunity that presents itself as an opportunity to better oneself. We as students are now looking at a future filled with uncertainty. Please do whatever it takes to do what you know is right, and save our future from an impending financial defeat.

Well, Michael, again working very hard, has a path, knows what he wants to do, puts a plan in place, like most students and most families, to figure out how he is going to be able to pay it both now in terms of the costs and paying back the student loans. And if we can't get a vote on this bill, we are pulling the rug out from under Michael.

Jennifer in Michigan wrote:

For me, it means I'll be very unlikely to finish grad school. We say the US (especially Michigan) needs to invest in technology, yet they want to do things like this that will result in an uneducated society.

Jennifer, I am with you. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, at a time when we know we have to outeducate and outinnovate to be able to outcompete in a global economy. Doing things that add costs for middle-class families, working families, to add costs for loans? You are bearing the brunt. You are getting a loan. You are believing in yourself and your future. We ought to be doing everything we can to support that, not adding more costs.

That is unfortunately what will happen if we cannot get beyond this filibuster on the floor of the Senate, to have a real vote, a final vote. We have the votes. We are just being blocked from getting to the vote by the procedures of the Senate.

Kathryn in Michigan:

When I heard the interest for student loans is going to double, my heart sank. How is this even possible? My daughter is 21 years old, a psychology major at Western Michigan University.

That is another great university in Michigan.

I am so very proud of her as any parent would be. With interest rates set to double, how can these students possibly even begin to think of paying these loans back? All this does is discourage kids from going to college at all and once again only the privileged will be allowed to succeed. Please once again we need your help. There has to be a light at the end of this dark tunnel for these kids and for our nation.

``There has to be a light at the end of this dark tunnel for these kids and for our nation.'' I could not agree more. We have to make sure the light they see is not from an oncoming train. We have to make sure the light they see is actually their way through the tunnel of debt that comes with college loans, and out into a future that is brighter for themselves, for their families. That is the hope, that is the promise of college education.

We have a responsibility to make sure we are doing everything possible to support the hopes and dreams, the hard work, the sacrifice that is going on in college after college, in home after home, where people are making tough decisions in order to give their kids a brighter future.

I was proud to help author the legislation in 2007 that cut the interest rate to where it is now, 3.4 percent. I was pleased to help lead the effort as well to reform the student loan program and expand college access. Those were good things to do--not bad things, good things. People have benefited. Three hundred thousand people in Michigan right now have benefited from that opportunity, the commitment we made to support young people, people going back to college, to have a brighter future through a college education.

Now is not the time to turn that around. The Stop The Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act is commonsense legislation. It does not add a dime to the deficit. It is fully paid for. It is something that needs to get done now so that there is certainty for families across Michigan and across the country. Education really is the road to opportunity in this great country and Michigan is home to world-class universities and community colleges. They are conducting cutting-edge high-tech research to help transform the economy. Our schools serve to open doors and create opportunities for thousands and thousands of graduates every year.

I am always honored when I have the opportunity to speak at a graduation, as I have done this year, and to see the pride and relief on the faces of students who have worked so hard--and their parents, their pride and the commitment they make to their children. I know how that feels as a parent sitting in the audience as your kids graduate and walk across that stage with their diploma.

This is ingrained in us as Americans. It is the foundation of who we are, to create an opportunity for people to go to school K 12 and then be able to have a chance to go on to college so they can have the best shot at success. That is what we have had as a foundation in terms of our values as a country. This is not the time to turn it back. We need to be making it easier, not harder, for students to achieve a college education which greatly improves their chances of getting a good-paying job and being successful in life.

We are at a moment where we had a vote today where it was very clear we have enough votes to pass this bill, to make sure that student loan rates do not double. We have enough votes to pass it. We just do not have support from across the aisle, we do not have the bipartisan votes we need to get to a supermajority to stop the filibuster. That is what is going on right now. We need to vote. Folks do not have to agree with it. They can vote no on the final bill. Let us vote. On behalf of the people we represent, let us vote on the bill. On behalf of 300,000 students and their families in Michigan, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of others who are looking for the opportunity to go to college, to be able to work hard and take all the risks that come with that to be able to have a better life, I ask we simply allow a vote. Let us vote on this bill.
It is time to get on and let people know we get it, we understand what families are going through, we understand the squeeze middle-class families are going through on every front right now, and we will make sure that access to college, a higher education, is not just there for the wealthy and connected but that it is available to everybody because we are a stronger country because of that.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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