|00:00:00||IT IS A SHAME THAT WE'RE NOT IN A POSITION WHERE WE CAN CONSIDER YOUR AMENDMENTS, BUT AS YOU KNOW AND SPOKE TO IN YOUR SPEECH, A DECISION YESTERDAY BY THE REPUBLICANS TO GO INTO A FILIBUSTER, WHICH IS WHAT YOU ARE WITNESSING ON THE FLOOR, WHICH IS WHY THERE'S SO FEW PEOPLE AND NOTHING REALLY HAPPENING ASIDE FROM SOME REALLY OUTSTANDING SPEECHES, IS A DECISION WHICH THEY MADE TIME AND AGAIN.|
|00:00:24||THIS WAS RARELY USED IN THE HISTORY OF THE SENATE.|
|00:00:29||SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, SOME PEOPLE REMEMBER THAT MOVIE.|
|00:00:32||THE 1960'S IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS DEBATE; REMEMBER THAT TOO.|
|00:00:36||SOMETIMES DURING THE VIETNAM WAR, MAYBE.|
|00:00:39||RARELY USED, BUT NOW IT HAS BECOME ROUTINE, COMMONPLACE.|
|00:00:43||SO THAT DAY AFTER WEARY DAY PEOPLE WHO SUBSCRIBE TO C-SPAN ON THEIR CABLE CHANNELS ARE CALLING IN TO THE CABLE PROVIDERS ASKING FOR THEIR MONEY BACK BECAUSE NOTHING'S HAPPENING ON THE FLOOR OF THE SENATE.|
|00:00:57||AND WHOSE FAULT IS IT?|
|00:01:00||IT'S OUR FAULT.|
|00:01:01||WHEN AN ISSUE LIKE THIS, THE ONE THAT BROUGHT ON THIS FILIBUSTER IS EXPLAINED TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THEY SHAKE THEIR HEADS AND SAY WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN WASHINGTON?|
|00:01:09||HERE'S WHAT IT'S ABOUT.|
|00:01:11||JULY 1 THE INTEREST RATE ON STUDENT LOAN DEBTS THROUGH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOUBLES.|
|00:01:17||IT GOES FROM 3.|
|00:01:19||4% TO 6.|
|00:01:20||8% UNLESS WE DO SOMETHING.|
|00:01:22||SO WE HAVE A BILL WE BROUGHT TO THE FLOOR YESTERDAY AND SAID LET'S BRING THIS BILL IN, LET'S DEBATE IT, LET'S VOTE ON IT, LET'S CHANGE SO THAT WE CAN PROTECT THESE STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES.|
|00:01:32||LET'S CHANGE THAT INCREASE BACK TO THE ORIGINAL 3.|
|00:01:35||4%. WHAT'S IT WORTH?|
|00:01:37||FOR SOMEONE WHO BORROWS $20,000 OVER THE COURSE OF COLLEGE EDUCATION, IT'S WORTH $4,000.|
|00:01:42||IF THAT'S YOUR SON OR YOUR DAUGHTER OR YOU HAPPEN TO COSIGN WITH THEM $4,000 IS NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT.|
|00:01:49||PEW DID A SURVEY OF A WORKING FAMILIES ACROSS AMERICA, I SAY TO MY COLLEAGUE, THE SENATOR FROM VERMONT, THEY DID A SURVEY OF FAMILIES ACROSS AMERICA AND THEY ASKED THEM A VERY BASIC QUESTION: OF YOU, THE WORKING FAMILY POPULATION, HOW MANY COULD COME UP WITH $2,000 IN|
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Delaware for speaking to some critical issues. It is a shame we are not in a position where we can offer the Senator's amendments, but, as he knows and as he spoke to in his speech, the decision yesterday by the Republicans to go into a filibuster--which is what we are having on the floor and which is why there are so few people and nothing really happening aside from some really outstanding speeches--is a decision they have made time and again.
This was rarely used in the history of the Senate--the filibuster. Oh, ``Mr. Smith Goes to Washington''--some people will remember that movie, and in the 1960s during the civil rights debate, they may remember that too. Sometimes it was used during the Vietnam war, maybe. But it has rarely been used. Now it has become so routine, so commonplace, that day after weary day people who subscribe to C SPAN on their cable channels are calling in to the cable providers and asking for their money back because nothing is happening on the floor of the Senate. And whose fault is that? It is our fault. It is our fault. When an issue such as this--the one that brought on this filibuster--is explained to the American people, they shake their heads and ask: What are you doing in Washington? Well, here is what this is all about. On July 1, the interest rate on student loans through the Federal Government doubles. It goes from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless we do something. So we have a bill we brought to the floor yesterday. We said: Let's bring this bill in, debate it, vote on it, and let's change the law so that we can protect these students and families. Let's freeze that increase and keep it at the original 3.4 percent. Now, what is that worth? For someone borrowing $20,000 over the course of their college education, it is worth $4,000. If that is your son or daughter and you happened to cosign with them, $4,000 is nothing to sneeze at.
The Pew Foundation did a survey of working families across America, I say to the Presiding Officer, the Senator from Vermont, and they asked a very basic question of the working-family population. The question was how many of them could come up with $2,000 in 30 days--2,000 bucks. Maybe there was an emergency in their home--a water pipe just broke or the furnace broke down. My daughter just went to the hospital. But how many could come up with $2,000 was the question, and only half responded that they could. Half of the working families in America have access to $2,000. So what does $4,000 or more in interest being paid mean? For a Senator, not much. For an average working person, a lot.
Now, what happened yesterday? We called this bill and said: Let's move it, let's start debating it, and let's get it done before July 1. We all agree we should. President Obama and even Governor Romney said we should get this done. But not a single Republican Senator would vote with us--not one. Not one Senator would join us to bring the bill to the floor. That is why we sit here literally wasting our time and the time of taxpayers over an issue we should not even have to debate.
I don't know about the Presiding Officer, but I had to borrow some money to go to school, and I borrowed it from the Federal Government. It was called the National Defense Education Act. They created it back in the late 1950s, early 1960s, because we were scared to death of the Russians and sputnik. We thought, they can take over the world. They have the bomb, and now they are the first in space with that little basketball-sized satellite. So we thought it was time for America to get up and get moving, and we created, for the first time in our history, student loans available to nonveterans. We gave help to veterans in the GI bill after World War II, but these were for nonveterans. I got one. I signed up for it.
When I graduated from law school in the late 1960s, they added up all the money I had borrowed--college and law school--from the Federal Government.
I remember the day I brought the letter home to my wife, baby in arms and another one on the way, and said: My student loans have all been added up.
She said: How much? I said: It is $8,500.
She said: We will never be able to pay that back.
And I said: I know, but we have to try. We have a year before the first payment is due.
My first job out of law school paid $15,000 a year, to put things in perspective.
Now look what students are faced with today. They are lucky to get out with an average indebtedness of $24,000--very lucky. For a lot of students, that isn't even possible. They get more deeply in debt as they go through school. They say: Well, you told me to finish my education so I would have a better life and realize my dream. I can't quit now. I have to borrow some more money and finish next year and the following year or I have wasted it all. If I am a college dropout, what do I have to show for it--no diploma, just the debt.
So we asked families across Illinois to get in touch with us and tell us about student debt as they see it in their lives. We know nationally that student debt in October of 2010, for the first time in history, surpassed credit card debt. People owe more money on student loans than on their credit cards, and it is growing--dramatically growing. When you meet these families, it is sometimes a sobering moment.
I was at a college in Chicago last week and met a student, a lovely young lady majoring in art, which my daughter majored in, so I have no problems with that because she is a great [Page: S3019] artist and doing well, thank goodness. This young lady said: I am about to get my bachelor's degree with a major in art, and my student indebtedness at this moment is $80,000. But I am going on for a master's. I think it will be about another $60,000 of debt.
I think she was 25 years old. Think about that. Think about what she has just done to herself. First, she did what she was told to do--to get a college degree. Then she got so deeply into debt that she is going to come to realize--sadly come to realize--it is going to influence so many decisions in her life. Will she ever be able to buy a car, get married, buy a home, have children? Each one of those decisions along the way is going to be based on her student loan indebtedness.
So is it right for us to keep the interest rate low on student loans? Of course. Why do we want to make it any worse for her or anyone else who borrows money after July 1? We should be doing this, and we shouldn't be squabbling over it. We were sent here to solve these problems, not to go into filibusters--one more Republican filibuster. I don't want to get partisan about it, but they didn't provide a single vote--not one--to help us move to this issue.
So on our Web site we asked families to tell us their stories. I just spoke about a young student, but many of these students have parents and grandparents who sign up to help them. They say: Yes, we will cosign the note because we want our granddaughter or our daughter to finish school; let me help.
About 6 weeks ago, the New York Times reported a story in which a woman had her Social Security check garnished for student loans. It wasn't a loan she took out, it was a loan she guaranteed for her granddaughter. Her granddaughter defaulted, and they went after grandma. She now receives a smaller Social Security check because of the student loan and her goodness in helping her granddaughter. That is the reality of this debt. It trickles through entire families--families with guaranteed loans that, when they go into default, mom and dad keep working well past what they thought was their retirement age.
I have to say, the more I watch this, the more I am concerned about this student debt bomb that could go off, if it hasn't already. I worry about what it will do to these families and to the reputation of a college degree. There are people who are skeptical today about mortgages. They wonder, why would I take out a mortgage on a home if the value of the home is going to plummet? That skepticism doesn't help us build hope in communities and neighborhoods.
What if we reach that level of skepticism when it comes to higher education? So this is part of the conversation.
Let me tell my colleagues about some of the stories I have heard.
Dewaine Nelson from Rockford contacted our office. Dewaine's daughter went to a private college costing about $30,000 a year. She has been a file clerk for 11 years since graduating. He wanted to help her, but he lost his job in 2001. He says: Once you fall on hard times you can never get a good job in the finance or insurance industry. Your credit is no good. Bad credit means no good job.
Then he decided to go back to school to pursue his MBA in marketing. Still, with no decent pay, he couldn't repay his student loan. So he went back to school so he could defer the student loan again. He still doesn't have a job that pays enough for him to pay off his loan balance and help his daughter pay her balance.
So here we have mom and dad still with student debt and struggling to find a decent job.
Sharon Sikes from Chicago wrote about her son. She lost her job shortly before her son started college. Each semester his tuition kept going up. This is something we hear about very often. Her son's degree is in journalism and mass communication--not a field where you can find a lot of jobs these days. His loan payments are about to kick in, and he works as a cook in an Irish pub. He makes enough for his basic expenses--food and keeping his bicycle running so he can go back and forth to work.
She said she honestly doesn't know what he is going to do when the student loan payments kick in. His debt from the State university tuition has left the family with more than $60,000 in loans, and he is cooking in an Irish pub.
Sharon says she is in her sixties and nobody is lining up to give her a job. She had hoped to be able to help her son pay his loans off sooner. She says: He deserves a chance to follow his passion without being saddled with years of debt.
Jill Shakely from Rockford started out at Rock Valley Community College, which I think is a smart decision--to go to a community college if you are not sure or at least you want an affordable first year or two of college. She started out at Rock Valley, and when she graduated in 2002, she decided she wanted to continue her education and pursue a 4-year degree. She didn't have any support from her family. They couldn't help her pay for it. So she took out students loans. The tuition was $26,000 a year, and it added up quickly. She doesn't own a home and makes a salary some would say is pretty small. She spends a large percentage of her salary on her loans. She would like to go back to school but can't take on any more debt. She is worried about how it will affect her future. She said that keeping interest rates low will help students like her.
Who wants to argue against this situation? Who believes we ought to raise the cost of student loans? Who thinks that is in the best interest of this country in terms of encouraging young people to go to school and getting them out of school without a mountain of debt which crushes them? That is what this debate is all about. The fact that we couldn't get one single vote from the other side of the aisle--not one--to move to this bill to even debate it is a sad commentary.
This Senate Chamber is supposed to be about deliberation, amendment, and debate. At the end of the day we put our fate in the hands of those gathered here and have a vote, up or down, win or lose. I know the Presiding Officer has had some that have won and some that have lost and so have I. But that is what it is supposed to be all about. Instead, my voice echoes through an empty Chamber. The people who forced the filibuster and stopped us from taking up the student loans are gone. Not a one of them is here.
Last night, I was one of the last speakers, and I looked over there to an empty side of the aisle and I said: Of all the people who objected to our going to the bill, not a single one of them is here. They are all out to dinner. That isn't right.
I know the Presiding Officer has been pushing for changes in the Senate rules. It would strike me that if someone wants to stop the consideration of a bill before the Senate, they ought to park their posterior in one of these chairs and be prepared to take on all comers to explain why. If they don't have the time or inclination to do it, then for goodness' sake don't start a filibuster. One of the rule changes we have talked about says that if it is that important to stop the business of the Senate--as we are doing now--they ought to at least have to stay on the floor of the Senate to defend their position. Is that too much to ask, that they don't go out to dinner and check in the next day to make certain that lunch is going to be served on time? I think this issue gets to the heart of what our economy is facing, what families are facing, and what the Senate refuses to face. This Republican filibuster has stopped us from taking up a measure that would reduce the interest rate on student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. In my State of Illinois, 365,000 students will be affected if that interest rate goes up. It isn't fair to them. It isn't fair at all. It isn't fair to be stuck in the middle of a filibuster when we ought to be rolling up our sleeves and tackling this issue.
The House passed a bill on student loans. Just to give an idea of how there is a different approach to things, the House Republicans--with very little, if any, Democratic support--said: OK. We will lower the interest rate on student loans, and here is how we will pay for it. We will take money out of a preventive health care program. In other words, we will reduce childhood immunizations, and the money we save by not vaccinating children, we will use that to bring student loan interest rates down.
How about that for a Faustian choice? How about that for a deal with the devil? We will run the risk that children will get childhood diseases, [Page: S3020] and we will take the savings from that and help the kids who are in college. Is that what it has come to now, your money or your life? That is the choice we have? That is all? I don't think so.
Why is it that the Tax Code in this country has become a sacred document? One would think that some people, instead of putting their hand on the Bible and swearing to uphold the Constitution, put their hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Tax Code as it stands, without a word being changed. I didn't. That Tax Code is a law written by men and women, some of great intellect and some bowing to special interests. Our job every year is to look at it and see if it makes sense.
The way we pay for the student loan interest rate to stay affordable is closing a loophole in the Tax Code used by accountants and lawyers to avoid paying taxes. They have made out pretty well under that provision for a while. But why should they have that for life? Are they now entitled to that? Is that an entitlement they get for life? I don't think so. I think it is a loophole we can close, save the money, and reduce student loans--not at the expense of children being immunized against whooping cough and measles. That is what it comes down to.
House Republicans seem to think that is a pretty good tradeoff. I don't. Let's at least debate it on the floor of the Senate instead of getting locked into a worthless filibuster again and again and again. That is where we are.
Many of us have gone to our official Web sites and invited people living in our States to send us their stories about student loans. I have read three of them here. I can tell you many more from those I witnessed just this last week going through my State, going from Chicago to Peoria to Decatur and all points in between. The stories just come crushing in one after the other, and they are reminders that what we do on the floor of the Senate makes a real difference in the lives of families across America.
I have said it before: I wouldn't be standing here today without student loans. The government loaned me the money, and somehow or another I paid it back. I didn't think I could, but I did, hoping the next generation could use that money to get their own student loans. It is part of the kind of trust we have, one generation helping another. So are we going to let these students down? Are we going to let this filibuster be the end of the conversation? I have listened to the Republican leader come to the floor day after day and say: Oh, this is just a political stunt. Where is the stunt? What it comes down to is we want to bring the bill to the floor and open it to an amendment process.
To my friends on the Republican side, give us your best ideas. Put them in amendment form. Bring them to the floor. Let's debate them. Let's vote. We will do the same. Who knows, we may find some common bipartisan agreement and get this problem solved. We will not get it solved stuck in another filibuster, which is where we are right now, wasting the time of the Senate and the time of the taxpayers and endangering a lot of families across America who desperately need our help.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.