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Public Statements

Congressional Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. JEFFRIES. Well, let me first thank the distinguished gentleman from the Badger State, my good friend, Representative Mark Pocan, who has been such a tremendous leader on this issue and a tremendous leader on issues of significance to progressive America--to America, in fact--during his short time in the Congress.

We've seen week after week, month after month, Representative Pocan has come to the floor of the House of Representatives, the people's House, and boldly articulated a progressive vision for how we can deal with some of the problems that we confront today in America.

And certainly when we talk about wrapping our arms collectively around the issues of great significance to this country of ours, dealing with the crisis in higher education is of utmost importance.

As Representative Pocan has eloquently laid out, if the Congress does not act by July 1, more than 7 million Americans will face a doubling of their student loan interest rate from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, increasing an already heavy burden as it relates to their college education.

Why is it important that we address this issue? Well, one, the cost of a college education in America keeps going up, but the amount of financial aid available to these students keeps coming down. And so college and higher education, which is a pathway toward the American Dream, is increasingly out of reach for low-income Americans, for working families, for the sons and the daughters of the middle class.

Why is this troubling? Well, it's troubling because it's clear that going to college makes sense as it relates to creating a better future for Americans.

This chart that we have illustrates the point in a very compelling way--Education Pays. This lays out the median weekly earnings of individuals at different levels of educational attainment.

Now, with less than a high school diploma, you earn approximately $451 a week and your unemployment rate is in excess of 14 percent.

If you've got a high school diploma or a GED, you'll make around $638 per week. You still have a very high unemployment rate on average of 9.4 percent.

If you get a bachelor's degree, your weekly earnings increase exponentially to $1,053 per week, and your average unemployment drops to 4.9 percent.

And if you were to take that a step further and obtain a professional degree, your weekly average earnings increase to in excess of $1,600 per week, and your collective unemployment rate drops to 2.4 percent.

Education pays.

And that's why for the good of America, we support the position that we should invest in young people--help facilitate their pursuit of a college education. It will benefit them, it will benefit their families, it will benefit the communities from whence they come, and it will also, of course, benefit America.

But today, as was indicated by Representative Pocan, we have a student loan debt crisis that we confront in America. Student loan debt is now second only to home mortgages in collective debt as it relates to the American people. It was staggeringly high just a few years ago--$650 million or so. It now exceeds $1 trillion. It's a crisis of incredible proportion.

Now, similar to Representative Pocan and the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania, Representative Cartwright, we've only been here for a couple of months; but it's been clear in that relatively short period of time that there are many in the people's House who consistently talk about the notion that the debt that we have in America is a moral imperative for us to get under control. It exceeds $16 trillion.

They blame President Obama for that debt, and that's why we have an irresponsible fight every time there's occasion to raise the debt ceiling. I don't want to dwell on that fact, but parenthetically I will note that we're in the situation that we're in today, not because of assistance that the government has provided to those seeking higher education or other positive domestic spending programs, we're in this situation--that $16 trillion debt situation--because of some irresponsible decisions that were made during the 8 years of the previous administration. That's just the facts.

But they'll talk--some of our good friends on the other side of the aisle--about this moral imperative to deal with the debt that we have in America. How dare we shoulder future generations with such a burden.

But then when it comes to the more than $1 trillion debt burden that is actually being shouldered by younger Americans, what we've gotten is an irresponsible bill, H.R. 1911, that will actually make a bad situation even worse.

As Representative Pocan indicated, I've introduced legislation that would freeze the current interest rate at 3.4 percent. There are other ideas on this side of the aisle, all designed to deal with making sure that as many Americans as possible can go to college, that it is affordable, and they can leave college with a minimum amount of debt so they can accelerate their entry into society as productive Americans.

That's really what we want. Because the higher the debt burden that the average American faces--young American--the more likely it is that they'll put off consumer spending decisions that are important to our economy, such as the purchase of a home; they'll put off because of their student loan debt burden, starting a family; many who might otherwise be future entrepreneurs create start-up companies that may become the next Google or the next Yahoo or the next Facebook, they put off those decisions because they need the certainty of a job that will help pay down this debt. And so there are a lot of complications that are created as a result of the $1 trillion debt burden that we have in America.

And so how are we going to deal with this problem? Well, the GOP proposal, as I mentioned, really will make a bad situation worse. Under the current interest rate, 3.4 percent, over the next 5 years, someone with a subsidized Stafford loan would have about $4,174 in debt. If we did nothing and allowed the increase to take place on July 1, that same individual would have $8,808 in debt over a 5-year period.

But with the GOP proposal, H.R. 1911, the student would be in the worst possible position: in excess of $10,000 in debt. This is not an appropriate approach for our future college students, for younger Americans, for this great country of ours. That's why we are urging the rejection of H.R. 1911. Let's come to the table and have a discussion that allows younger Americans and our college students to benefit from the historically low interest rates that exist and allow them to pursue the dream of a college education so they can grow and prosper and benefit the good of the country.


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