BY WESLEY P. HESTER
While Congress remains deadlocked on funding an extension of student loan interest rates that will expire at the end of this month, Democrats are using the impasse to score political points and take shots at Republicans.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched www.StudentLoanCountdown.com, which has a countdown clock ticking down the seconds until the current rates end, faulting “Republican inaction.”
Virginia Democrats are also getting in on the action.
The Democratic Party of Virginia and Virginia Young Democrats have taken to social media outlets to convey the urgency of the issue and submitted op-eds to papers around the state.
Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Timothy M. Kaine has called on congress to extend the rates and is holding a forum with Northern Virginia students and parents on the future of higher education in Burke.
Kaine supports repealing subsidies to major oil companies as a way to pay for extending lower student loan rates and previously supported another plan to close the so-called “John Edwards loophole” that allows wealthy individuals to skirt paying Medicare payroll taxes on earnings.
The Republican-controlled House passed an extension of the student loan interest rate in April to be paid for by cuts to a health prevention program, but the president threatened to veto the legislation despite having proposed to cut from the program in his budget. It failed in the Senate.
Democrats have also taken aim at Republican U.S. Senate nominee George Allen, criticizing him for declining to voice a position on one measure before congress that would pay to maintain the current rates by eliminating oil and gas subsidies.
A release from the Democratic Party goes on to criticize Allen’s record on higher education over the years.
“George Allen may not want to talk specifics about the upcoming student loan rate increase that will make getting a college education more difficult for many students, but his record speaks volumes about where he stands on support for Virginian students and their families” said David Mills, executive director for the DPVA.
Like Kaine, Allen, who capped and froze rising tuition costs as governor, has called on congress to extend the current rates, though he has not taken positions on various plans to do so.
“With nearly half of current college graduates unemployed or underemployed, George Allen believes Washington must set priorities and extend the current loan rates without raising taxes,” said Allen campaign spokeswoman Katie Wright.
“It is unfortunate that Washington continues to try to score political points on the back of students that will be hurt the most,” she added. “George Allen has a record of keep education affordable for Virginia families, capping and freezing tuition as governor, while Tim Kaine admitted making ‘significant’ cuts to higher education that drove up tuition costs by over 30 percent.”