- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Key lawmakers yesterday proposed cutting student loan interest rates in half to help the most needy college kids and their parents.

The “Reverse the Raid on Student Aid” measure is sponsored by Sen. Richard J. Durbin and Rep. George Miller. College costs have risen 44 percent since 2001, and it will be even harder for families to afford sending their children to college starting in July, when subsidized student loan rates will increase to 6.8 percent, said Mr. Miller, California Democrat.

“More and more students are considering forgoing that college education because of that cost [and] the tremendous amount of money they will have to borrow,” said Mr. Miller, the ranking minority party member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

His plan would cut subsidized loan rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent and parent student loan rates from 8.5 percent to 4.25 percent, starting in July. The plan would save the average undergraduate student with $17,500 in loans $5,600 over the course of their loan agreement, the lawmakers said, without outlining a way to pay for the change.

Steve Forde, a spokesman for the House education committee, was cool to the proposal yesterday. He said members of both parties and student groups negotiated the 6.8 percent fixed rate in 2001, but now Democrats are acting “as if we pulled that out of nowhere.”

Mr. Forde also noted that Democrats failed to reveal it would cost more than $30 billion over five years to implement their plan.

“They are offering slogans and cute rhymes, but the bottom line is it’s an even-numbered year and they know it and they are trying to turn this into a campaign issue,” he said.

Anticipating such a response, Mr. Miller said: “They say that to every proposal. They made a priority of taking money out of student-aid accounts, then they want to tell you there is no money left.”

Mr. Miller accused Republicans of “raiding” the fund when they approved a $12.5 billion cut in college-aid programs earlier this year.

Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said centrist Republicans will feel election-year pressure to support the idea.

Mr. Miller said he thinks it will be difficult to bring the measure to a floor vote in the House.

Nearly all House Democrats earlier this month voted against the Republican-authored College Access and Opportunity Act, which would increase federal Pell grants for needy students. Democrats said it did not go far enough to make college affordable.

During that debate, Mr. Miller tried unsuccessfully to reduce student loan interest rates.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the nonprofit Campaign for America’s Future, said cutting the rates will give students hope “there is a possibility of relief.” He predicted a grass-roots groundswell will force action this year.

Other groups, including Rock the Vote, are also mobilizing college students to petition Congress to cut the interest rates. College Democrats of America will hold National Canvass Day on April 29 to register students to vote and to outline the rising cost of higher education.

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