Tom Harkin Calls Republican Proposals on Student Loan Bill Unacceptable

Says Republicans aren't taking interest-rate issue seriously as students protest lack of action.

By SHARE

The White House might not be responding to the Republican leadership's new proposals to pay for a bill that would freeze student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent. But Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin spoke for Democrats on the Hill when he came out against the Republicans' latest plans.

"Those are not acceptable," Harkin said at a rally for students fed up with the student loan mess on Capitol Hill. "You are taking money from low-income families and poor people to help keep the interest rates low on poor students. That doesn't make much sense."

Vice President Joe Biden also hinted at his disdain for the plans Tuesday during a meeting with university leaders from across the country. [See 6 reasons America will rebound.]

"We're looking at what John Boehner says," Biden told reporters. "We're wide open to listen to him. We're not going to trade off student loans for other vital, vital programs."

Last week, House Speaker Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl all sent ideas to the White House on how to finance the $6 billion student loan bill, which Republicans and Democrats agree on in principle but which has been caught up in a "pay for" debate. One of those ideas would require federal employees to contribute 1.2 percent more of their paychecks to their retirement funds over the next three years.

[See the GOP's Senate Targets for 2012.]

Another would revise Medicaid taxes, attempt to rein in Social Security overpayments, and cut down on the amount of time students have before they start accruing interest on loans.

And while all of the ideas were "cherrypicked" from the president's own budget, Harkin says they simply won't work.

Democrats have proposed closing a tax loophole for businesses, a measure some Republicans have supported in the past.

Harkin argues that if Republicans were really serious about negotiating a plan to pay for the bill, they would be meeting with Democrats on the Hill, not writing letters to the president.

"This is something that we decided here in the Congress," Harkin says.

Wednesday, hundreds of students gathered at the Capitol to protest inaction on the student loan interest rate bill. [See a Collection of Political Cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Many said they were irritated with Congress's political posturing.

"Unfortunate isn't even a strong enough word to describe what is happening here," says Sean Colligan, a senior at the University of Puget Sound. "It's absurd that they are stonewalling and pandering on an issue that is this important."

Students said they would remember the Capitol Hill student loan debacle when they step into a voting booth in November.

"It's going to definitely be a factor," Colligan says.

On average, if the bill is not passed, students who take Stafford loans out after July 1 will have to pay roughly $1,000 more on those loans.

Many students at the rally said they already had debt in excess of $20,000.

Kristofer Dowdell says that, despite working two jobs while in college, he will have more than $40,500 in student loan debt when he graduates next year.

"I will take any opportunity I can after I graduate to help pay off my loan," Toferdowdell says.

"These voices will make the difference," Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed said during the rally. "That's my only hope. Just looking at what the speaker is doing and others are doing. That is not a very hopeful sign. The hope is here."