Earl Hadley is a Writer/Education Coordinator for the Campaign for America's Future.
Republicans are stumbling. Their mismanagement of the Iraq conflict, immigration and the Dubai Ports World deal are impacting their polling numbers. Add their failure on college affordability to that list. The legacy of the Bush administration and this Congress has been one of broken promises and cuts to student financial aid.
In February, Republicans voted through nearly $12 billion in cuts to student assistance programs. President Bush’s most recent budget, for the sixth straight year, leaves the maximum Pell Grant—the nation’s primary grant assistance program—well below the $5,100 he promised while campaigning for a second term.
These broken promises and cuts come at a time when the typical student borrower graduates with $17,500 in loan debt and interest rates on college loans are being hiked this July. Tuition at four year public colleges rose 40 percent since 2001, and 200,000 students are unable to attend college at all this year because of the costs.
While they have the right rhetoric, noting that the country’s economic strength is dependent on Americans receiving quality post-secondary education, Republicans refuse to properly invest in our students. Are Republican politicians so wealthy that the rising cost of a college education is irrelevant to their families? Do they simply not care that paying for college has become more difficult over the past decade? Is it that they place paying for tax breaks for the wealthy ahead of America’s students and our economy?
Any politician who professes support for higher education should balk at the Republican-controlled Congress cutting $12 billion from student assistance programs at the same time that it approves upper-end tax breaks. Increasing access to higher education is important for our economy and democracy. Those with a college-education are less likely to live in poverty, be unemployed or go to jail—thus boosting tax revenue and our economic output. At the same time, college-educated Americans are more likely to volunteer and vote, key ingredients for a strong democracy.
When backed into a corner on their failures, Republicans like to try verbal judo and counter, “Democrats don’t have a plan, all they do is attack.” Well, Republicans should be condemned for placing the American dream further out of reach for young Americans; they should be called enemies of the middle class for making the loans parents take out for their children’s education more expensive. But Democrats also have a plan.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., have introduced the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act of 2006 , which would cut interest rates on college loans in half. The typical student borrower would save $5,600 over the duration of their loan. As with national security, Democrats have stepped up with an alternative and progressives must now do our part to get that message out.
To make college affordability an election-year issue we need to put the Reverse the Raid Act in front of the Republicans and the media. Progressives need to force the Republicans to stand either with America’s students and middle-class families or with their special interest friends. With this goal in mind, the Campaign for America’s Future has launched a petition campaign, demanding that House Majority Leader, John Boehner, R-Ohio, endorse the Reverse the Raid Act.
We’ve targeted Rep. Boehner because he is the poster child of the Republican failure on college affordability. As former Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee he shepherded through the $12 billion cuts. Boehner helped to make sure that students and parents continue to pay excessive interest rates on college loans, while protecting the interests of his financial backers—student loan companies like Sallie Mae, which has donated $122,470 to Boehner's PAC. While Boehner and his fellow Republicans have tried to justify their cuts to college assistance with rhetoric about deficit reduction, when the tax cuts for the wealthy are accounted for, the Republican slash‘n’burn plan actually increases the deficit.
The bottom line is that our students don’t have time for Republican word games. Republicans need to answer once and for all whether they are looking out for America’s students or special interests. Let’s begin by putting House Majority Leader John Boehner on the hot seat.