Student loan interest rates are emerging as a potentially high-profile campaign issue in the congressional race between Rep. John Tierney and challenger Richard Tisei.
A recent press release from the Tierney campaign warns that unless legislative action is taken within the next couple of weeks, the interest rate on Stafford student loans is set to double, from 3.4% to 6.8%, affecting some 177,000 students in Massachusetts alone. The higher interest rate would raise borrowing costs for students by as much as $1,000 per year, said the campaign. If no action is taken, the doubling of the interest rate would kick in on July 1.
Further highlighting the issue, the Tierney campaign announced this week that it has created a new online video where local college graduates talk about how higher student loan rates could impact them. The video may be viewed at this link.
Tierney spokesman Grant Herring told Lynnfield Patch that the Congressman had earlier this year tried to offset the nearly $6 billion cost of keeping the current 3.4% student loan rate with legislation to close some tax provisions for large oil companies. Instead, he said that Republicans in Congress had voted to reduce funds in the Obama healthcare bill for preventive healthcare programs for women and children. House Republicans have called the healthcare money in question a “slush fund” and maintain that they also want to keep the current loan interest rate at 3.4%.
“Middle class families cannot afford to see interest rates double. I remain committed to ending unnecessary loopholes for Big Oil in order to keep the current interest rate at 3.4%,” said Tierney in a statement. “It is my hope that Congressional Republicans will compromise for the sake of students.”
The incumbent Congressman's campaign has also been arguing that Tisei will be far more of an ally to the Republican leadership in Congress than he says.
"Mr. Tisei will tell voters in the 6th District that he is a different kind of Republican, but when he goes down to Washington to stand with GOP’s most right-wing leaders and ask for special interest money, it’s a different story. Tisei continues to put the interests of his Republican patrons in Washington over the needs of the people of the 6th District." said Herring in a previous statement.
However, in a conversation this week with Lynnfield Patch, Tisei said that he is just as eager as anyone to keep the Stafford Loan rates at 3.4% - and he notes that if the interest rate were to double, it would not apply to existing loans.
"I think if you have people operating in good faith on both sides of the table there's no reason this can't be worked out," he said.
Tisei Criticizes Tierney Record, Partisan Climate In Washington
Beyond that however, Tisei maintains that the entire debate over student loan rates is more of a reflection of a dysfunctional political climate on Capitol Hill.
"Each side did it knowing the other side would never compromise," said Tisei, adding that the entire controversy represents "a failure of the Congress." And student loans aren't the only matter held up in partisanship. Major tax policy and budgetary decisions are also among the items stalled and lacking much in the way of long-term solutions. "Everything has a Band-Aid on it right now," said Tisei. "It's typical of everything that's going on down (in Washington D.C.) right now." Without more partisan cooperation and effective policymaking, Tisei says he is concerned that some federal programs could eventually collapse under their own weight. "Nobody is serious about protecting them," he said.
The GOP challenger fired directly back at his opponent on this issue and others, saying that Congress voted several years back to permit the Stafford Loan rates to go up - and he says that Tierney at the time supported the provision. "Instead of putting words in my mouth, he would be better off explaining to people what he's accomplished over the past 15 years," said Tisei, adding that there are "very few things he can point to as accomplishments."
"Tierney is just sort of making it up as he goes along, he's trying to tell me what my positions are," said Tisei.
Tisei said that he was the first in his family to graduate from college and that he did so in three years to help save money - while working multiple jobs. He also indicated that during his time in the state legislature, one of his specialties was in the human services area. "Those are the same concerns I'll bring down to Congress," he said.
While the current discussion focuses on student loans, Tisei noted that costs at higher education institutions have risen disproportionately (along with healthcare) to the rest of the economy in recent years. "There's obviously something wrong," he said, adding that the schools have no actual incentives to control tuition costs.
"The best thing we can do for college students right now is to help jump start the economy," he added, citing an "unacceptably high" unemployment and underemployment rate among recent college graduates.