Republican Shoots Down College Affordability Bill

Cornyn casts doubts on Democratic bill that would address college debt.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 15: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks to the media after Senate joint caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The senators met in a closed-session in the Old Senate Chamber Wednesday evening to discuss the subjects of filibusters and presidential nominations. 
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
May 7, 2014, 9:40 a.m.

The No. 2 Re­pub­lic­an in the Sen­ate is throw­ing cold wa­ter on a Demo­crat­ic pro­pos­al aimed at help­ing bor­row­ers with out­stand­ing stu­dent-loan debt.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the minor­ity whip, cri­ti­cized the le­gis­la­tion, which would fin­ance its pro­vi­sions through the so-called Buf­fett Tax on people mak­ing more than $1 mil­lion.

“This looks like a dus­ted-off pro­pos­al to raise taxes, and that’s not something I think we need to do,” Cornyn said. “Our eco­nomy grew at 0.1 per­cent last quarter.”

Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts in­tro­duced the Bank on Stu­dents Emer­gency Loan Re­fin­an­cing Act this week as part of the Demo­crats’ Fair Shot Agenda. The le­gis­la­tion has 26 co­spon­sors — all Demo­crats — and would let bor­row­ers with out­stand­ing stu­dent-loan debt re­fin­ance it at the 3.86 per­cent rate achieved after Con­gress passed the Bi­par­tis­an Stu­dent Loan Cer­tainty Act last year.

Cornyn said he couldn’t say un­equi­voc­ally that Re­pub­lic­ans would with­hold their sup­port and keep the meas­ure from get­ting the 60 votes needed for floor ac­tion, be­cause he is still re­view­ing the le­gis­la­tion. But Re­pub­lic­ans gen­er­ally balk at the no­tion of rais­ing taxes. He also said that Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der of Ten­ness­ee, the rank­ing mem­ber on the Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee, would mount the GOP’s re­sponse.

“This is kind of like a Tro­jan horse, the best it looks to me,” he said. “I think you’re go­ing to hear very pos­it­ive and con­struct­ive pro­pos­als from our side. I think Sen­at­or Al­ex­an­der, among oth­ers, is go­ing to be lead­ing that ef­fort. We’re happy to en­gage on edu­ca­tion and on costs and af­ford­ab­il­ity, but I don’t think this is the right ap­proach.”

In­deed, Demo­crats ad­mit that they craf­ted this year’s le­gis­lat­ive agenda with the midterm elec­tions in mind. Still, Cornyn’s cri­ti­cism of the bill was swift and comes even be­fore the cham­ber be­gins de­bat­ing the meas­ure.

Demo­crats ar­gue that the le­gis­la­tion is needed be­cause stu­dent debt is weigh­ing down the eco­nomy and drag­ging gradu­ates from the ranks of the middle class rather than boost­ing them in­to it.

“Al­low­ing stu­dents to re­fin­ance their loans would put money back in the pock­ets of people who in­ves­ted in their edu­ca­tion,” War­ren said in a state­ment. “These stu­dents didn’t go to the mall and run up charges on a cred­it card. They worked hard and learned new skills that will be­ne­fit this coun­try and help us build a stronger middle class and a stronger Amer­ica.”

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