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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, earlier today, just a few minutes ago as I was presiding where the Senator from Minnesota is now sitting, I listened to my colleagues speak on this issue of interest rates on student loans. I was particularly interested in the speech of a colleague who came to the floor and said this bill that is designed to prevent interest rates from doubling is all political show. The concept of it being a political show is difficult for me to get my hands around. Quite frankly, the President didn't set July as the date student loans would double in cost. That date was set by legislation that was passed in the Senate and in the House and sent to the President. It is that date, just 2 months from now, that brings forth the urgency on this issue--Presidential campaign or no Presidential campaign.

It is also important to recognize that this is not a debate at this moment about final adoption of a bill. It is about beginning the process of debating the bill. It is a motion to proceed. For those unfamiliar with Senate process, well, this is a motion that says this is an issue that, because of its urgency, should be on the floor now for us to work on, and everybody in this Chamber knows it cannot pass without 60 votes. As the debate unfolds, amendments are debated and hopefully a path is found that will produce the 60 votes necessary to send it on to the House and to the President's desk.

So I differ with my colleague, with whom I actually have collaborated on a number of projects. My colleague sees this differently. He sees this issue as one of politics. I see it as one of an urgent need in America for our students to have a chance to go to college with affordable financing, and that affordable financing will expire a few weeks from now. It is incumbent upon this body to take up this issue and provide a pathway to prevent that from happening.

I am struck by the voices I am hearing from Oregon. I was doing townhalls in Oregon, and people expressed concern about this to me. I am receiving letters from students about this issue and from other Oregonians. This is really a kitchen-table issue. This is the family sitting around the kitchen table and saying: How are we going to make things work? Is our child going to be able to go to college? Are we going to be able to afford it? We can contribute a little, and hopefully our son or daughter will get some grants, but they will also have to borrow some money. If they have a huge debt load and a high interest rate, will that be feasible for them or will they have to take a year or two off and try to find a job or two in the service economy to save money and then go back, and then what?

That is why student loan rates are so important. It is about the opportunity for our sons and daughters to have the course in life in which they are able to pursue their dreams and realize their potential. That is what this debate is about. That is a pretty big deal--certainly a big deal for students in my State of Oregon, for their parents, and for our future economy, which needs to have our children in America well-trained in order to drive the success of our economy.

We are facing a Republican filibuster saying: We don't want to talk about this issue. That is what a motion to proceed is. My colleagues have said: No, we don't want to debate it. I disagree with them.

Let's hear it through the voices of some of those folks on the front line.

Sermin from Multnomah writes:

Dear Senator Merkley:

Today I am writing about student loan interest rates. I do not want to see these rise, even double, when the legislation expires in July.

Please fight to keep these loans at a low interest rate so average Americans can have a chance at an education, a better life, without crippling debt.

She continues:

I was just accepted in the University of Oregon's graduate program in architecture. I have applied for loans as I do not have the money to pay for this education. My husband and I will have to scrape by when I quit my job to go to school.

Once I graduate and find employment, I am confident in my ability to pay back the loans. But raising interest rates would make it difficult to do so quickly, adding $5,000 in interest to my 5-year payback plan.

Please stand with middle America, average Americans, and support legislation to extend the low interest rates on student loans.

Kalie from Polk County writes:

Senator Merkley,

I am currently a freshman in college and have taken out a substantial amount of student loans in my own name to make my goal of attaining a college degree attainable.

Being 18 and having more than $20,000 in debt is scary, especially with the insecurity of today's economy, but I strongly believe that I am making the necessary investment to not only better my own future, but that of the U.S. society as a whole, as well as generations to come.

As it stands right now, a college education is something that, realistically, not everyone can achieve purely from an economic standpoint, and the legislation to raise interest rates on Federal student loans would only make attending college all the more difficult for some.

Please do myself, my peers, my future children, and their grandchildren a favor and help keep student loan rates where they are.

Help to make college more affordable for all people so more of our citizens can realize their dreams of higher education while simultaneously building a better country for future generations.

Doesn't that sum it up? ``Help to make college more affordable for all people so more citizens can realize their dreams while simultaneously building a better country.'' I think she got right to the heart of it.

Caroline in Benton County writes:

I am an oncology nurse, presently working on my Master's degree in nursing. Like many others, I have student debt. If we are to have an educated workforce, we must ensure that the high cost of education doesn't leave students in financial ruin.

Indeed, the fear of financial ruin from heavy debt burdens and high interest rates is a significant factor that

is dissuading people from pursuing higher education.

Cynthia from Columbia County writes:

If we expect to compete in a global marketplace, our children must have affordable access to education.

I have two kids in college, and the debts we are incurring are already topping $50,000; is it right that only rich people can send their children to college?

What kind of a country is it where we can spend billions on ``independent security contractors'' in Iraq or Afghanistan, but not on our own children's education?

She concludes:

Please support a plan to keep student loan interest rates from doubling this July.

I want to dwell on the point she made for a moment. We spent $120 billion in Afghanistan last year on misguided nation building while we let nation building at home suffer, both in terms of investment in our infrastructure and investment in education. So Cynthia wonders what is wrong that we are failing our children when we have billions to spend on a misguided war overseas.

Alana writes:

I am working to pay off student loans now, which is hard enough. Now my family's trying to send my youngest sister to college and is finding it hard to afford, and we are upper middle class. If we can barely afford an education now, how will anybody be able to do so if the interest rates go up? Please support the plan to stop this. This is a critical investment in the success of our middle class.

I think these folks from Oregon--Sermin, Kalie, Caroline, Cynthia, and Alana--have hit the critical points here. They may not know the finer points of Senate procedure, but the fact that a good portion of this Chamber is voting to block having a debate and consideration of this bill because the bill doesn't start in exactly the form they want it passed at the end is pretty difficult to explain.

I say to my colleagues, if they don't like the bill as it is, why not bring your amendment? The bill still cannot pass in the end without a supermajority, so why not bring forth your amendment--collaborate with others and bring an amendment forward.

There is a fundamental disagreement in the beginning on how we pay for this extension. It would not surprise anyone that I would say let's end this war in Afghanistan. Let's pay a third cutting down our deficit, a third on infrastructure, and a third on education, including keeping student loans affordable. But that is not the plan we are debating today. I would be glad to propose that plan if colleagues would like to join me to create a supermajority. I would do so after we are on the bill. You introduce a bill, you debate and amend it, and you have a final vote. You cannot get it done without a supermajority in the end.

The bill as introduced says we are going to close a loophole that is a tax entitlement for the very well off. I have heard many colleagues across the aisle talk about entitlements for the poor. I point out they should be equally concerned about wasteful entitlements for the best off--in fact, more concerned. One is a fundamental safety net for those who are struggling in an economy where there are few jobs. The other is a big bonus for the best off at the very top of society. Doesn't it strike my colleagues that the safety net is better than the big bonus for the best off? Well, my colleagues across the aisle have said: No, no, no, we want the bill to start with our payment plan, which is to strip health care prevention from children and parents. I guess they weren't raised with the same story I was raised with, which is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is simply better to inoculate children than to hospitalize children with whooping cough. It is better to prevent measles than to have children suffer with measles and be damaged by measles. It is better to manage diabetes than it is to amputate feet and provide guide dogs because folks have gone blind from diabetes. Prevention is better than cure. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I disagree with the plan to strip prevention as a strategy when we have options. Let's take that money from nation building in Afghanistan, let's take the money from bonus breaks for the best off in society, those tax loophole entitlements--let's do that because those do not rip a big hole in the safety net for Americans.

I come from a working family. My father was a millwright and a mechanic. They weren't sure how I would be able to go to college. They were determined that I would go. They raised me to believe in gaining the education necessary to have opportunities in life. But they didn't have the money. Despite the fact that I worked a job in college, that wasn't enough money. I got substantial grants, and that wasn't enough money. I had to take out loans, and I had to pay back those loans. The interest rates matter.

I say to my colleagues: End your filibuster. Come here as Senators, present your amendments, debate this bill, and if you don't like the bill in the end, vote against it. But do not block this debate on an issue of fundamental importance to the success of our children.

Madam President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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