House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined Republican and conservative interns and college students on the Senate side of the Capitol steps on Friday to protest the anticipated doubling of federally subsidized student loan interest rates.
Rates will revert back to pre-2008 levels, jumping from 3.4 percent back to 6.8 percent, unless Congress takes action. The protest was a last-ditch effort, as the rate hike will take effect on July 1.
“A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives did the right thing — it acted,” Cantor said as he addressed the students. “It said that students of this country have a right to a quality education and they shouldn’t be burdened by ever spiraling rates on their student loans.”
Back in May, House Republicans passed H.R. 1911: The Smarter Solutions for Students Act, which would tie student loan interest rates to the markets. Despite bi-partisan support in the House and Republicans urging the Senate to take action, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) rejected the bill. Now, the Senate has refused to act on the issue before recessing for the July 4 holiday, though it is possible the Senate could reach a new agreement after it returns.
“Senate Democrats have allowed politics to come into play,” Cantor said. “The Senate Democrats have said we can go onto recess week next week and forget about the students of this country. It is high time for us to tell them, ‘No, let’s get the business done.’ Don’t double our rates!”
The students stood listening to Cantor after having protested up and down in front of the Capitol building shouting, “What do we hate? Raising rates? What does it do? Raises burdens!” and “Harry Reid get out of your bubble. Don’t let my rates double!”
They also held signs that read “Stop wasting time, start leading” and “Students pay price for Democrats’ inaction.”
Rebecca Shieber, a spokesperson for the protesters, told Red Alert Politics why the students were out there.
“We are here protesting the Senate’s inability to prevent student loan rates from going up on Monday,” she said. “We want Senate to get off of vacation, hear our bill and debate the issues that can prevent our rates from doubling.”
Another protester, Jim Fellinger from Gettysburg College, also spoke to Red Alert about why it was important to have their voices heard.
“These are tough economic times and being concerned about being able to pay off your student loans at the end of college is pretty disconcerting when you’re midway through it,” he said. “To have been told that you’re going to have to pay one thing and find out later that you’re going to have to pay something else because Senate Democrats are not willing to pick this up… it’s pretty disconcerting.”
The protest comes as a last ditch effort on behalf of the students after Reid punted the discussion on the issue until after the Senate’s recess week.
Speaker of the House John Boehner also weighed in on the Senate’s inaction and put out a press release on Friday berating the smaller legislative body’s inability to compromise and ensure the best outcome for students and their families.
“Millions of American students and their families are about to pay the price for the stubbornness and partisanship of Senate Democratic leaders,” Boehner said in press release. “It is stunning that Senate Democrats would leave town having done nothing to prevent interest rates on college loans from doubling. Earlier this year, the president called for a market-based interest rate for student loans. House Republicans responded by passing one. Senate Democrats responded with scorn and inaction. The inability of the president and leaders of his party in Congress to come together will now mean higher borrowing costs for students already coping with skyrocketing tuition bills.”