Meet a Senator With Six Figures Banked — Who Still Has Student Debt

Sen. Chris Murphy likes to talk about student debt, including his own.

Junior United States Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy addresses journalists in Budapest on January 31, 2014. The senator met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and representatives of the Hungarian opposition. 
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
May 19, 2014, 5:08 p.m.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut likes to talk about his stu­dent debt. He brings it up when Con­gress de­bates stu­dent loans, as it did last sum­mer. He brings it up now, as Sen­ate Demo­crats push le­gis­la­tion to ad­dress skyrock­et­ing debt.

What he doesn’t talk much about is his bank ac­count with six fig­ures on de­pos­it — os­tens­ibly enough to pay off his loans, ac­cord­ing to newly re­leased Sen­ate fin­an­cial dis­clos­ures.

Murphy, a fresh­man Demo­crat and former House mem­ber, lists out­stand­ing edu­ca­tion­al loans of $15,001 to $50,000 for him­self and $15,001 to $50,000 for his wife, dis­clos­ures show. The doc­u­ments also in­dic­ate the sen­at­or has a check­ing ac­count with $100,001 to $250,000, and oth­er as­sets all told val­ued at $120,007 to $375,000. The doc­u­ments also show a mort­gage val­ued at $250,001 to $500,000.

Why the sen­at­or has not paid off the loans yet isn’t clear. Murphy, who was sched­uled to be in Hart­ford to dis­cuss col­lege af­ford­ab­il­ity with Edu­ca­tion Sec­ret­ary Arne Duncan, was not avail­able to com­ment.

Law­makers reg­u­larly point to high­lights from their bio­graph­ies to make lar­ger polit­ic­al or policy points. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id men­tions his ser­vice as a Cap­it­ol Po­lice of­ficer. House Speak­er John Boehner in­vokes his days work­ing at the fam­ily bar.

For Murphy, it’s stu­dent loans.

Last week, he spoke about the crush of stu­dent debt for gradu­ates of for-profit col­leges, men­tion­ing dur­ing brief re­marks that he is still pay­ing his own loans. In Decem­ber, he penned an op-ed with fel­low Demo­crat­ic Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii, who also has out­stand­ing stu­dent-loan debt.

“Like so many oth­er fam­il­ies across the coun­try, we and our spouses con­tin­ue to pay off our own stu­dent loans at the same time we are sav­ing for our chil­dren’s col­lege funds,” Murphy and Schatz wrote.

Murphy’s loans have 30-year terms, with his taken out in 1998 with a 5.12 per­cent in­terest rate and his wife’s in 1997 with a 5.38 per­cent in­terest rate. Sal­lie Mae is the cred­it­or for both, ac­cord­ing to dis­clos­ures.

The rules gov­ern­ing per­son­al fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure re­quire law­makers to re­port their in­form­a­tion, in­clud­ing as­sets, li­ab­il­it­ies, and trans­ac­tions, with­in a range, mak­ing it hard to paint an ex­act por­trait of a law­maker’s fin­an­cial status.

The re­ports are due each year on May 15, but tra­di­tion­ally had been filed on pa­per, mean­ing doc­u­ments were not avail­able for pub­lic re­view un­til some­time in June. This is the first year the Sen­ate Of­fice of Pub­lic Re­cords has put the re­cords on­line for the pub­lic to ac­cess im­me­di­ately. So far, roughly 70 sen­at­ors had filed, with oth­ers ex­pec­ted to be up­loaded on­line by the end of the week, ac­cord­ing to the pub­lic-re­cords of­fice. Some sen­at­ors have sought an ex­ten­sion.

Of course, Murphy is not the only sen­at­or car­ry­ing stu­dent-loan debt. Sen. Marco Ru­bio, a pos­sible Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, made head­lines when, in 2012, he spoke about car­ry­ing stu­dent-loan debt.

The is­sue of stu­dent debt is also at the fore­front of Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers’ agenda, with Re­id pledging to put on the floor later this year a bill that would al­low debt­ors to re­fin­ance stu­dent loans at a lower rate.

At is­sue, Demo­crats say, is the skyrock­et­ing debt taken on by stu­dents, which is now lar­ger than cred­it-card and auto debt na­tion­ally, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­er­al Re­serve Bank of New York. Total out­stand­ing stu­dent debt is more than $1 tril­lion, with one in 10 de­fault­ing on that li­ab­il­ity, ac­cord­ing to the Young In­vin­cibles, an ad­vocacy group that sup­ports the in­terests of 18- to 34-year-olds.

Re­pub­lic­ans ob­ject to the pay­ment pro­vi­sion in the Demo­crats’ stu­dent-loan bill, called the Bank on Stu­dents Emer­gency Loan Re­fin­an­cing Act, which im­poses a tax on mil­lion­aires to off­set the cost of the pro­gram.

But Murphy is a co­spon­sor of the pending le­gis­la­tion and ranks stu­dent-loan debt as one of the biggest is­sues fa­cing the pub­lic. He has also sponsored oth­er bills aimed at ad­dress­ing stu­dent loans, in­clud­ing one that would let stu­dents earn col­lege cred­it in high school and a bill with Schatz that would en­cour­age col­leges to de­vel­op pro­grams that lower costs.

He has also staked a po­s­i­tion firmly to the left on the is­sue. Dur­ing last sum­mer’s floor de­bate over stu­dent-loan rates, Murphy was one of 16 Demo­crats to vote against a bill that re­set spik­ing loan rates. And he in­voked his own loans as first-hand ex­per­i­ence and a sign that he un­der­stands the strain of col­lege debt.

“My wife and I know the squeeze that mil­lions of fam­il­ies are in today, as we pay back our stu­dent loans while try­ing to put away money for our kids’ fu­ture col­lege edu­ca­tion,” he said at the time.

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