Monday, June 16, 2014

Grimes and McConnell duke it out over student loans; bill's sponsor to campaign for fellow Democrat

By Megan Ingros
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes attacked Sen. Mitch McConnell for blocking a bill that would have let Americans refinance student loans and paid the cost by raising taxes on the wealthy.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), announced soon after the June 11 vote that she will be campaigning for Grimes in Kentucky. Asked on MSNBC how she planned to fight back, she said, "One way I'm going to start fighting back is I'm going to go down to Kentucky and I'm going to campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes. She's tough, she's feisty, she endorsed the student loan bill, said she wanted to bring down interest rates for Kentuckians."

Warren told interviewer Chris Hayes, "Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves."

McConnell said on the Senate floor, "Senate Democrats don't actually want a solution for students. They want an issue to campaign on -- to save their own hides in November. . . . Students can understand that this bill won't make college more affordable. They understand it won't reduce the amount of money they have to borrow. And students know it won't do a thing to fix the economy that's depriving so many young Americans of jobs."

McConnell said Democratic Whip Charles Schumer said two years ago that if Democrats "wanted to be, quote, political about this" issue they would have paired it with a tax increase on the wealthy. "His words show, without equivocation, that Senate Democrats are now playing politics with the futures of young Americans -- instead of doing something about the VA crisis."

McConnell said the Democrats who run the Senate should give "full attention" to legislation addressing problems in the Department for Veteran Affairs health care system rather than passing bills to create issues for the election.

Warren's bill died Thursday, June 11 on a 56-38 vote, four votes short of the 60 needed to pass significant legislation in the Senate. Only three Republicans voted with Democrats to proceed with the bill.

Grimes, in a statement, said the bill would have helped 360,000 Kentuckians with student loan debt."The Obama administration estimated the bill could have helped 25 million borrowers save $2,000 over the lifetime of their loans," The Washington Post reported. The default rate for student loans is higher then for other types of loans.

Grimes said the average Kentuckian's student loan debt is $22,384, and "this vote against our middle-class families underscores the fact that my opponent has been in Washington for far too long and just does not get it."

Grimes released a record and background of McConnell's history with student loans. One example given was in 2013 when McConnell "voted against ending filibuster on plan to extend student loan interest rates for two years and keep them from doubling by closing tax loopholes including those for oil companies."

Grimes called on the Senate "to pass both the legislation to ease student loan burden as well as the bipartisan bill to address problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs."

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