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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. I thank you for the recognition, Mr. President.

Let me say, I have been sitting here listening to my colleague, the Senator from Wyoming, and I think he makes some good points. I think we do need a more open process. I think we need to try as much as possible to work with each other in the committee process. I do not think there is any doubt about that. I think we need to allow germane amendments and have a good, robust debate on the bills that are on the floor.

But what I want to talk about today is the fact that we are in a filibuster. Fifty-two of us wanted to move forward on this bill and 45 of us did not. That is why we are locked in this situation.

I rise with regret today, and there is much to regret about yesterday's vote on the student loan bill. First, I regret the false choice between helping students or funding preventive health care. Most Americans support student loans. Most Americans see the value of preventive health care. Yet my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would ask that we sacrifice one for the other.

An affordable education should not be held hostage to cuts in preventive health care. That is not a choice; it is an ultimatum.

Have we come to this? We teach our children to set goals, to set priorities. It should surprise no one that they seriously question our goals, our priorities. It is like a bus heading toward a cliff. We can turn it around, and we ought to be able to do so without throwing students underneath it.

The other side says they care about our Nation's students too. Perhaps, but there is caring, and then there is devotion. Once again, their devotion is for the wealthiest among us and not for the 7 million students who are worried about how they will pay for their education.

Back to choices. As any bright college student can tell us, it always comes down to choices. How do we protect the Stafford Student Loan Program? By further cuts to preventive health care? By weakening research to prevent disease? By cutting our response to public health emergencies? No, of course not. We do it by closing a tax loophole, by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share of payroll taxes.

I submit that this is not, and should not be, a tough choice, but apparently it is. In fact, it is so tough that the other side doesn't want to talk about it any further. The result? Yet another filibuster.

That brings me to my other regret. Once again, this Senate is broken, in limbo, stuck. Once again, the American people look on in dismay.

The Senate was once called the greatest deliberative body in the world. Now it reminds me of that song, ``The Sound of Silence,'' ``and no one dared disturb the sound of silence.''

That is what we hear more and more--silence. No debate, no discussion. Yesterday's vote was the 21st filibuster by Republicans of a Democratic bill this Congress--the 21st--and the year is young.

This ugly parade of filibusters--and for what? Let's see. To block the President's job bill, to stop the repeal of tax breaks for big oil companies, to not help local governments pay for teachers and first responders, to prevent a minimum tax on households earning more than $1 million a year, and now it is student loans--another filibuster, more sounds of silence.

I have previously joined my colleagues and friends, Senator Merkley of Oregon and Senator Harkin of Iowa, to push for fundamental reforms in how the Senate operates. The reason then and even more abundantly clear now is that the Senate was broken.

This is tragic. At a time when our country needs us to act, we do almost nothing. It is no wonder that Congress's approval ratings are at an all-time low. Instead of working to solve the major problems our country faces, we retreat to the shadows.

In order to have real change in the process, the Senate has to change the way we go about business. I have advocated, and will continue to do so, that the Senate, at the beginning of each Congress, should adopt its own rules by a simple majority vote. The Constitution clearly gives us this authority, and it is time to exercise it. Yet at the beginning of each Congress, the Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, doesn't vote to adopt its rules. The Senate simply accepts the rules of the previous Congress--rules that lead to the unfettered abuse of filibusters, rules that have made the Senate a graveyard of good ideas.

When we fail to reform our rules, their abuse becomes an entrenched part of the Senate's culture. That is where we are today--after years of filibuster abuse, we have turned the Senate into a supermajoritarian body. To do anything in today's Senate requires 60 votes.

Yesterday's vote on the student loan bill was a prime example. We can't even get onto the bill. Fifty-two Senators voted to move forward, but 45 Senators chose to filibuster. Once again, minority obstruction prevents majority rule. That is not democratic, and it is not how our Founders intended the Senate to operate.

This has to change. A new Congress will begin next January. Right now, we
don't know which party will control the House, the Senate, or the White House, but it should not matter. The Senate must reform itself regardless of which party has control, not for the good of the Democrats or the Republicans but for the good of the country.

The Senate will have many new Members next January, and I think most of them will want to become part of a functioning legislative body, one where they can bring their best ideas and have them debated, a body where all views are heard and considered but majority rule is once again the norm. That institution cannot exist under the existing rules, and we continue to prove that on a daily basis.

The reforms Senators Harkin, Merkley, and I proposed at the beginning of this Congress had strong support, but it did not pass. So here we are, 21 filibusters later, and the line of Americans who wait for a Congress that works, that actually gets things done, and that comes together to find solutions--that line just got longer by about 7 million students.

Several of my constituents have watched and have seen this filibuster proceed, and they have written me on my Facebook page. I thought I would share a couple of those comments because they really go to the heart of what is happening on student loans.

Tracy Edwards writes me, saying that student loans are vital. She says:

My daughter graduates this Saturday from UNM. Without student loans, this day would not have come.

Her daughter would not have graduated.

In 6 months, we will start repayment of those loans. I am not asking anyone else to pay my daughter's loan, but why should we be punished with an increase for trying to ensure our children get a solid education? If a bankruptcy is filed, you could lose your home, your car, and your credit, but student loans are mandated for repayment, no matter what. Is it too much to ask for a fair interest rate? I think the 1 percent will not be happy until it is a world of the haves and have nots.

Thank you, Tracy.

Donna Kubiak writes this:

I agree ..... my daughter is a single mom of 3 kids and working on her degree to teach elementary school ..... without financial aid, she will have to work for a minimum wage job and get welfare indefinitely.

Thank you, Donna, for that comment.

Mr. President, as we know, this issue is absolutely crucial to 7 million American students who don't want to see those interest rates skyrocket a couple months from now. I believe the estimate is about $1,000 per student. They can't afford that, and we need to get this bill on the Senate floor. We need to cut out the filibusters and settle down and do the amendment process, the debate, and produce a bill.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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