Reid Remarks On Immigration, The Budget And Rising Student Loan Interest Rates

“Last night the Senate Judiciary Committee, after many hearings and three weeks of markup, advanced a common-sense, bipartisan proposal to fix our broken immigration system… I will bring this strong, bipartisan legislation to the floor in June, sometime soon after we return from the Memorial Day work period.”

“Senators McCain and Collins, two Republicans whom I admire deeply, came to the floor to call on their own party to stop blocking bipartisan budget negotiations.”

“The rising price of higher education puts college out of reach for many promising young people… But, if Congress fails to act soon… interest rates on student loans are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent – effectively socking 7 million students with $1,000 a year in additional loan costs.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the bipartisan immigration reform, on Republican objections to a budget conference and on student loan interest rates, which are set to double on July 1. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Last night the Senate Judiciary Committee, after many hearings and three weeks of markup, advanced a common-sense, bipartisan proposal to fix our broken immigration system. I commend the diligent work of the committee, under the leadership of Chairman Patrick Leahy.

I will bring this strong, bipartisan legislation to the floor in June, sometime soon after we return from the Memorial Day work period.

Although neither Republicans nor Democrats will support each and every aspect of this legislation, it is gratifying to see the momentum behind reforms that will make our country safer and help 11 million undocumented immigrants get right with the law. I also applaud the efforts of the Gang of Eight – four Democrats and four Republicans – who showed real bravery as they set aside partisanship to address a critical issue facing our nation.

Courage was also on display on the Senate floor yesterday, as two Republican Senators bucked their party for the good of the country. Senators McCain and Collins, two Republicans whom I admire deeply, came to the floor to call on their own party to stop blocking bipartisan budget negotiations.

It has now been 60 days – two months – since the Senate passed its common-sense, pro-growth budget. But for 60 days, Republican leaders have objected to a conference with the House of Representatives where we could work out the differences between our budgets and our priorities. The only explanation Republican leaders have given for their endless obstruction is this: they refuse to negotiate unless we agree in advance to let them have their way.

Yesterday, the senior Senator from Arizona and the senior Senator from Maine, both Republicans, condemned that hypocrisy. Senator McCain called obstruction by his fellow Republicans, “a little bizarre” – a word I have often used to describe this gridlock. Senator Collins agreed it was “ironic, at least.”

The senior Senator from Maine went on to say: “We have called repeatedly for a return to regular order in this body. Well, regular order is going to conference.” Democrats couldn’t agree more. Democrats have a pro-growth budget we will proudly defend. House Republicans should be ready to do the same.

I don’t know why my Senate Republican colleagues are so afraid of an open process. A conference committee report will need both Democratic and Republican votes to pass.  Do Senate Republican not trust their House Republican colleagues to hold the line on their priorities?

Congress must set sound, long-term fiscal policy through the regular order of the budget process – and through compromise. But Democrats and Republicans will never find common ground if we never get to the negotiating table.

Congress has worked hard, and compromised often, over the last four years in order to reduce the deficit and reverse the trend of rising debt that began under President Bush. That work has paid off. We’ve reduced the deficit by more than $2.4 trillion. But as our nation has succeeded in setting a course for financial responsibility, students across the country have struggled to do the same.

The rising price of higher education puts college out of reach for many promising young people. And it saddles those who do get an education with unsustainable debt – debt that causes them to delay buying their first home, put off having children or give up the goal of starting a business.

Today Americans have more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. They have more student loan debt than credit card debt. And the average graduate owes more than $25,000. Getting a college education should free young people to achieve their dreams, not saddle them with crushing debt.

College is already unaffordable for too many young people. But, if Congress fails to act soon that cost will go up once again. On July 1, interest rates on student loans are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent – effectively socking 7 million students with $1,000 a year in additional loan costs. In Nevada alone, this will cost 26,000 students more than $21 million next year.

We should be removing the obstacles that keep young people from getting an education – not erecting more barriers. But raising interest rates would put higher education even further out of reach for many students.

So last week Senate Democrats introduced a proposal to freeze student loan interest rates at current levels for two years without adding a penny to the deficit. This measure is fully paid for by closing wasteful tax loopholes.

Legislation being pushed by House Republicans will take a different route – sticking it to students instead of closing loopholes. Rather than investing in the next generation of American workers, the House bill would cost students as much as $6,500 more in interest than the current rates.  In fact, passing the House proposal would be worse than doing nothing at all. Under the House bill, students would pay up to $2,000 more than if we allow rates to double in July.

But Democrats know an investment in education is an investment in our economy. So we’ll fight to keep student loan rates low, and hold back the rising price of education.

Last year – after months of obstruction – Republicans eventually conceded to help us achieve that goal. After all, it was great election-year politics for them.

This is what Mitt Romney said about the effort to keep loan rates low last year: “I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans.” Even the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said there wasn’t a soul in Washington who thought student loan rates should go up. Democrats agree. But unlike Republicans, we won’t abandon our commitment to students just because the election is over. I wonder, can my Republican colleagues say the same?

I hope Republicans still share our goal of keeping the American Dream affordable. And if they do, there’s an easy way for them to prove it: work with Senate Democrats to quickly pass our proposal to protect American students.

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