Congress returns today from its Fourth of July holiday (though given the level of maturity the body has shown over the last few years, it may be more accurate to use the technical term — recess). Hopefully, members are tanned, rested and ready. There’s plenty of work to do.
One of the first items on the agenda needs to be atoning for the shameful betrayal of millions of lower- and middle-class students and their families struggling to pay for a college education.
On July 1 — when most senators and congressmen had long departed Washington, D.C., for a leisurely weekend “in the district” — a key interest rate for a popular student loan was allowed to double.
The subsidized Stafford loans are used by an estimated 7 million students and families a year, accounting for a quarter of all direct federal borrowing. Last year, in yet another case of “kicking the can down the road,” Congress extended the 3.4 percent interest rates on those loans for a year in order to give legislators time to figure out a long-term solution to student borrowing.
In what should come as no surprise to anyone following the third-grade slap fight the 113th Congress has become, lawmakers squabbled among themselves for months, didn’t come close to solving the problem, then left for vacation.
In the meantime, the Stafford loan rate jumped to 6.8 percent last Monday. Congress’ Joint Economic Committee estimated the cost passed on to students would be about $2,600 each.
The debate over a long-term solution hasn’t just pitted Democrats against Republicans. Republicans are fighting Republicans. Democrats are fighting Democrats. President Obama’s budget, for example, would have tied student loan interest rates to the financial markets; others in his party rebelled, saying there was no guarantee the rates wouldn’t rise if the economy improved.