CONGRESSIONAL PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS; Congressional Record Vol. 159, No. 73
(House of Representatives - May 22, 2013)

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[Pages H2902-H2906]
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  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of 
January 3, 2013, the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Pocan) is recognized 
for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.
  Mr. POCAN. I rise today on behalf of the Congressional Progressive 
  The Congressional Progressive Caucus has been fighting for economic 
fairness for the middle class and those striving to be in the middle 
class for this entire country. Today, we would like to talk 
specifically about the growing, skyrocketing student debt that we have 
in this country.
  Just this past weekend, 6,200 students graduated from the flagship 
university in my State, my alma mater, UW-Madison. These young people 
leave Madison with new friends, new skills, new knowledge, and, most 
importantly, access to increased economic opportunity through their 
college diploma.
  Students with a bachelor's degree have half the unemployment rate of 
those with a high school degree. In 2012, students with a bachelor's 
degree earned almost 80 percent more than someone with a high school 
diploma in a similar position. Unfortunately, these students are also 
leaving college with something else: unprecedented levels of student 
loan debt.

  The drastically increasing student loan debt held by Americans across 
the country can be considered nothing less than a crisis. Not a looming 
crisis, but an urgent, already-here crisis. Total student debt in this 
country now tops $1 trillion. That exceeds all the credit card debt in 
this country. And that's up from just $200 billion in 2000, just 12\1/
2\ years ago. Every second in America, total student debt increases by 
$2,854. According to the New York Federal Reserve, total student debt 
has tripled over the last 8 years, representing a 70 percent increase 
in both the number of people with debt and the average debt held per 
  About two-thirds of the class of 2011 graduated with student debt. 
Their average debt was more than $26,000. In my home State of 
Wisconsin, the weight of student loan debt is severely affecting 
college graduates' ability to support themselves and their families.
  There's an organization in Wisconsin that I want to give a little 
thanks and credit to. One Wisconsin Now is a progressive think tank run 
by Scot Ross. This organization has made it one of their leading 
efforts to talk about rising students debt and the trillion-dollar debt 
that we have and what it's doing to our economy. Thanks to them, I have 
some stories and figures to share specific to Wisconsin, and 
  According to one study from One Wisconsin, the average monthly 
payment made by Wisconsinites with a bachelor's or advanced degree is 
nearly $400 a month. It's $388, to be exact. Let's put it in this 
perspective. Before someone can pay their rent or their mortgage, their 
utilities, their groceries, child care, they already owe $400 in 
student loans. If they're lucky, they'll have some funds left over to 
save for retirement.

                              {time}  2000

  Because of these exorbitant rates, it will take the average citizen 
in my State almost 19 years to pay off their student loan debt from a 
4-year university.
  There are some long-term economic effects to this. The effects of the 
skyrocketing costs are twofold:
  Number one, at a time when a college degree is more important than 
ever to obtain reliable employment, we are in grave danger of pricing 
too many of our young students out of a college education. These 
drastic increases in tuition have occurred at the same time that we 
have seen the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
  We know that to compete for the jobs of the 21st century and to 
thrive in a global economy, we need a growing, skilled, and educated 
workforce, particularly in the areas of science, technology, 
engineering, and math.
  It is estimated that the U.S. will need 22 million more college-
educated workers by the year 2018. Currently, driven partly by rising 
college costs, we are expected to fall short by 3 million workers. Our 
colleges and universities such as UW-Madison and Beloit College and 
others in my district have the talented faculty to produce our 21st-
century workforce, but they need the students to teach and train. And 
an unaffordable college education is an unaffordable future for our 
  In the short term, we also see these effects on our economy. As 
students become more and more bogged down with high student loan debt, 
they're understandably reducing their expenditures in our current 
economy. According to one study by One Wisconsin, due to the high 
burdens put on students from their loans, new car purchases in our 
State are reduced by more than $200 million annually, and that's just 
in the State of Wisconsin. Meanwhile, households with student loan debt 
are overwhelmingly more likely to rent a home than to own a home, 
affecting home sales throughout America.
  Owning a home, buying a car--these aren't just typical byproducts of 
the American Dream. These are important components of our country's 
overall economic health. If our economy is to recover--not just in 
Wisconsin, but across the country--we need to see strength in these two 
  So we find ourselves at a crossroads. Instead of providing an 
enriched and educational background and advanced economic opportunity 
for our young people, a college education is increasingly trapping 
students in endless debt, preventing them from advancing economically 
and contributing to our economy.
  If we continue to believe that an accessible, affordable, and quality 
education should be a national priority, that it is critical to our 
future economic prosperity, then we need to come up with a long-term 
plan to manage the skyrocketing costs of education.
  Now, Democrats have already done a number of efforts in these area. 
We've tried to increase the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 in 2014 to 
$5,645 in 2016. We have increased income-based repayment programs to 
ensure that graduates can manage loan repayments during stressed 
economic times. We have tried to create the American Opportunity Tax 
Credit, providing a maximum of $2,500 tuition tax credits to eligible 
families and students. We have provided loan forgiveness for graduates 
in public interest careers after 10 years of payments, and for 
everybody else after 25 years of payments. And we have required schools 
to give an online calculator so that students and families can estimate 
their costs based on their family's financial condition.
  But we need to and we must do more over the long run. We can restore 
consumer protections for our students. We can increase our funding for 
higher education. And we can reauthorize the Higher Education Act and 
protect programs like Pell Grants that support low-income students 
attending college.
  But as we all know, we have a pressing issue facing our body right 
now that will affect students who live in every single one of our 
districts. Unless we take action, on July 1 interest rates on 
subsidized Stafford loans will double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. 
If we do nothing at a time when our country is still facing a steep 
economic recovery, 7 million low- and middle-income students nationwide 
will see their student loan rates increase. That's 7 million people in 
this country will have their rates increase on student loans. That will 
wind up costing student borrowers $1,000 more a year. If we do nothing, 
that will add $4.3 billion to students' debt burden in just 1 year 
alone. Quite simply, we cannot afford to do nothing. Allowing these 
interest rates to double would represent a dereliction of our duties.
  Right now, banks can receive loans from the Federal Reserve at 
historically low levels, less than 1 percent. If banks can receive such 
loans, shouldn't we protect lower loans for our students who are 
struggling in today's economy more than anyone else?
  Last year, before I arrived in Washington, Congress extended the 3.4 
percent rate for 1 full year. There are a number of bills right now--
including those introduced by my Democratic colleagues--that would 
extend the 3.4 percent rate by at least 1 year, if not more. But we 
must take action now before we risk drowning our future workforce in 
even more student loan debt.

[[Page H2903]]

  Now, this body, this House tomorrow will be taking up a measure, H.R. 
1911, the ``Make College More Expensive Act.'' Unfortunately, the 
legislation this body will consider, instead of providing needed relief 
for our students, will instead only make college more expensive for 
millions of young people and their families across the country.
  As I mentioned, if we don't act by July 1, interest rates on 
subsidized student loans will double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. 
The Republican legislation that we have before us tomorrow would be 
even worse for students than if we did nothing at all.
  By tying Federal student loan rates to the 10-year Treasury note, the 
interest rate for a student entering college next year will be reset 
every year he or she is in college. Why is that a problem? Well, 
because by the time next year's freshmen graduate and start repaying 
their loans in the year 2017, the interest rate that freshman had on 
his or her first loan that first year of college is projected to more 
than double today's current rate for subsidized Stafford loans.

  In practical terms, what that means over the long run is a student 
who is about to enroll in their first year of college will pay higher 
interest rates under the Republican plan than if Congress lets the 
current rates double. Again, this bill is even more damaging than if we 
do nothing--which we should do as a body.
  According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, students 
who borrow the maximum amount of Stafford loans over 5 years will pay 
$1,300 more in interest rates under the Republican plan before this 
body tomorrow than if we allow those rates to double and nearly $6,000 
more than if we kept the rates at 3.4 percent. The overall cost to 
students and families would be $4 billion in additional interest 
payments over the next decade compared to our current law.
  Let me repeat that: if we pass H.R. 1911, it will cost our students 
and families $4 billion more over the next 10 years than if we keep the 
law the way it is.
  These facts don't lie. The bill does not make college more 
affordable; it does just the opposite. It worsens the student debt 
crisis that we should be working to solve. And this is just another 
case of mistaken priorities and misguided plans.
  While the Democrats are working hard to even the playing field, 
Republicans would make it even harder for the average American to be 
able to afford college.
  H.R. 1911 imposes a long-term financial burden on young people 
looking to pursue higher education. It will put $4 billion additional 
in student debt over the next decade that would have been used 
otherwise to help pay down our deficit. This is not a sustainable, 
balanced way to deal with our deficit; and it's certainly no way to 
ensure a thriving future for the next generation of America.
  We've seen time and time again how student debt stifles our economy. 
We cannot afford to make college more expensive for the very Americans 
trying to get that education.
  I am very pleased to be joined by another freshman Member of this 
body, a Representative from the State of New York who is the author of 
one of these bills that will make sure that we keep that interest rate 
at 3.4 percent and not allow it to double on July 1. I would like, Mr. 
Speaker, to yield to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Jeffries).
  Mr. JEFFRIES. Well, let me first thank the distinguished gentleman 
from the Badger State, my good friend, Representative Mark Pocan, who 
has been such a tremendous leader on this issue and a tremendous leader 
on issues of significance to progressive America--to America, in fact--
during his short time in the Congress.
  We've seen week after week, month after month, Representative Pocan 
has come to the floor of the House of Representatives, the people's 
House, and boldly articulated a progressive vision for how we can deal 
with some of the problems that we confront today in America.

                              {time}  2010

  And certainly when we talk about wrapping our arms collectively 
around the issues of great significance to this country of ours, 
dealing with the crisis in higher education is of utmost importance.
  As Representative Pocan has eloquently laid out, if the Congress does 
not act by July 1, more than 7 million Americans will face a doubling 
of their student loan interest rate from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, 
increasing an already heavy burden as it relates to their college 
  Why is it important that we address this issue? Well, one, the cost 
of a college education in America keeps going up, but the amount of 
financial aid available to these students keeps coming down. And so 
college and higher education, which is a pathway toward the American 
Dream, is increasingly out of reach for low-income Americans, for 
working families, for the sons and the daughters of the middle class.
  Why is this troubling? Well, it's troubling because it's clear that 
going to college makes sense as it relates to creating a better future 
for Americans.
  This chart that we have illustrates the point in a very compelling 
way--Education Pays. This lays out the median weekly earnings of 
individuals at different levels of educational attainment.
  Now, with less than a high school diploma, you earn approximately 
$451 a week and your unemployment rate is in excess of 14 percent.
  If you've got a high school diploma or a GED, you'll make around $638 
per week. You still have a very high unemployment rate on average of 
9.4 percent.
  If you get a bachelor's degree, your weekly earnings increase 
exponentially to $1,053 per week, and your average unemployment drops 
to 4.9 percent.
  And if you were to take that a step further and obtain a professional 
degree, your weekly average earnings increase to in excess of $1,600 
per week, and your collective unemployment rate drops to 2.4 percent.
  Education pays.
  And that's why for the good of America, we support the position that 
we should invest in young people--help facilitate their pursuit of a 
college education. It will benefit them, it will benefit their 
families, it will benefit the communities from whence they come, and it 
will also, of course, benefit America.
  But today, as was indicated by Representative Pocan, we have a 
student loan debt crisis that we confront in America. Student loan debt 
is now second only to home mortgages in collective debt as it relates 
to the American people. It was staggeringly high just a few years ago--
$650 million or so. It now exceeds $1 trillion. It's a crisis of 
incredible proportion.
  Now, similar to Representative Pocan and the distinguished gentleman 
from Pennsylvania, Representative Cartwright, we've only been here for 
a couple of months; but it's been clear in that relatively short period 
of time that there are many in the people's House who consistently talk 
about the notion that the debt that we have in America is a moral 
imperative for us to get under control. It exceeds $16 trillion.
  They blame President Obama for that debt, and that's why we have an 
irresponsible fight every time there's occasion to raise the debt 
ceiling. I don't want to dwell on that fact, but parenthetically I will 
note that we're in the situation that we're in today, not because of 
assistance that the government has provided to those seeking higher 
education or other positive domestic spending programs, we're in this 
situation--that $16 trillion debt situation--because of some 
irresponsible decisions that were made during the 8 years of the 
previous administration. That's just the facts.
  But they'll talk--some of our good friends on the other side of the 
aisle--about this moral imperative to deal with the debt that we have 
in America. How dare we shoulder future generations with such a burden.
  But then when it comes to the more than $1 trillion debt burden that 
is actually being shouldered by younger Americans, what we've gotten is 
an irresponsible bill, H.R. 1911, that will actually make a bad 
situation even worse.
  As Representative Pocan indicated, I've introduced legislation that 
would freeze the current interest rate at 3.4 percent. There are other 
ideas on this side of the aisle, all designed to deal with making sure 
that as many Americans as possible can go to college, that

[[Page H2904]]

it is affordable, and they can leave college with a minimum amount of 
debt so they can accelerate their entry into society as productive 
  That's really what we want. Because the higher the debt burden that 
the average American faces--young American--the more likely it is that 
they'll put off consumer spending decisions that are important to our 
economy, such as the purchase of a home; they'll put off because of 
their student loan debt burden, starting a family; many who might 
otherwise be future entrepreneurs create start-up companies that may 
become the next Google or the next Yahoo or the next Facebook, they put 
off those decisions because they need the certainty of a job that will 
help pay down this debt. And so there are a lot of complications that 
are created as a result of the $1 trillion debt burden that we have in 
  And so how are we going to deal with this problem? Well, the GOP 
proposal, as I mentioned, really will make a bad situation worse. Under 
the current interest rate, 3.4 percent, over the next 5 years, someone 
with a subsidized Stafford loan would have about $4,174 in debt. If we 
did nothing and allowed the increase to take place on July 1, that same 
individual would have $8,808 in debt over a 5-year period.
  But with the GOP proposal, H.R. 1911, the student would be in the 
worst possible position: in excess of $10,000 in debt. This is not an 
appropriate approach for our future college students, for younger 
Americans, for this great country of ours. That's why we are urging the 
rejection of H.R. 1911. Let's come to the table and have a discussion 
that allows younger Americans and our college students to benefit from 
the historically low interest rates that exist and allow them to pursue 
the dream of a college education so they can grow and prosper and 
benefit the good of the country.

                              {time}  2020

  Mr. POCAN. Thank you, Representative Jeffries, for your leadership on 
this issue and for your bill, which I am very proud to be a cosponsor 
of. I think that it's fair to say that college students and aspiring 
college students, not just in New York but across the country, owe you 
a good kind of debt for the work that you're doing. Thank you so much 
for continuing to expose what we need to expose, which is that the bill 
before this body tomorrow will cost $10,000 in interest more than it 
has to. It is worse than if we simply did nothing and let the loans 
double on July 1. We need to act. We have bills, like Representative 
Jeffries' bill, with which to do that.
  I would like to share one story from One Wisconsin Now, and then I'd 
like to introduce another colleague of mine. has 
collected these stories, and this is a story from a woman named 
Alexandra who is in my district. Let me read what she says:

       I am 27, and my student loans forbid me from living in a 
     safe neighborhood. I have to live where there is cheap 
     housing, and must live with a roommate. I can't afford a car 
     payment, and don't have one. I live paycheck to paycheck, and 
     virtually save no money. I have a great job, one that I 
     worked very hard to get, and three-quarters of my entire 
     paycheck go towards my student loan payments. I live every 
     day worrying that, someday, my student loans are going to get 
     the best of me financially. I am very close to defaulting on 
     my loans. I fear never having the opportunity to buy a house 
     or a car, invest or have a savings account, have a family or 
     pay for my children's education. I fear the thought of merely 
     surviving. I have to live with the fact that this will likely 
     be my life for the next 20 years.

  Alexandra, thank you so much for sharing your story with One 
Wisconsin Now so we can share it here today. You're not alone. I have a 
lot of stories from people in Wisconsin who have shared the exact same 
story. With the current pace we're on, if we don't fix student loans 
and the cost of education, we are going to put so much extra burden on 
your generation and the next generation that, again, you will not have 
the opportunities that many of us have had towards buying a car, buying 
a home, getting your family jump-started. So this is a crisis. It's a 
real crisis right now, and we need to address that.
  I have another colleague to whom I would like to yield. 
Representative Matt Cartwright is another one of our freshmen from 
Pennsylvania. He is also the freshman class president for the 
Democrats, taking on a leadership role among our body, and he has been 
an outspoken advocate for the middle class in this country and 
especially for those voices in Pennsylvania.
  Mr. Cartwright.
  Mr. CARTWRIGHT. I thank you, Mr. Pocan.
  Mr. Speaker, talking about the middle class is something that isn't 
done enough of here in this Chamber. The middle class is something that 
makes America what it is.
  The middle class is something that speaks to Americans and says: Come 
join us. We represent opportunity in this country. We represent the 
ability to achieve more, to realize the American Dream.
  It's the middle class that makes America different from so many other 
nations in this world, and it's the middle class for which we must work 
overtime to make sure we preserve it, because if we lose the middle 
class in this country, we lose the sense of opportunity, the sense of 
hope, the sense of upward mobility. We lose an essential element of 
what it is to be Americans. We have to do everything we can to preserve 
the middle class, and one of the biggest, stoutest pillars of the 
middle class is our education system in this country, including the 
higher education system.
  I rise, Mr. Speaker, in opposition to H.R. 1911, on the floor 
tomorrow. Nominally, it is called the Smarter Solutions for Students 
Act. I call it--and many of my colleagues call it--the ``Make College 
More Expensive Act,'' which is a much more accurate title for this 
  According to the Congressional Research Service, under H.R. 1911, 
students who borrow the maximum amount of $27,000 of unsubsidized and 
subsidized Stafford loans over 5 years would pay $12,374 in interest; 
or $10,867 in interest under current law if rates are allowed to double 
to 6.8 percent; or $7,033 if rates stay at 3.4 percent. Keeping the 
interest rates where they are will save our students nearly $5,000.
  For that reason, I cosponsored Representative Joseph Courtney's bill, 
H.R. 1433, which will extend these low rates for at least 2 more years, 
and that's the fair thing to do. That's the decent thing to do. It's 
the American thing to do to protect the middle class. This is the 
approach that we need now with costs of college rising and student debt 
expanding at historically high rates. Let's examine the facts:
  The total outstanding student loan debt in the United States has 
surpassed the $1 trillion mark. This is a figure that has outpaced 
credit card debt, auto debt, and it's second only to mortgage debt in 
this entire Nation. A recent study shows that student loan debt is the 
only type of consumer debt in the United States of America that has 
actually increased during this Great Recession, and the problem only 
continues to grow worse.

  As a result of these debts, millions of Americans cannot buy cars, 
purchase new homes, start businesses or do the other things that mean 
realizing the American Dream. It's a terrible time for young people. 
It's a horrific time for young people.
  Let's talk about the unemployment rate for young people. The 
unemployment rate in April for people between the ages of 16 and 24 was 
16.2 percent, more than double the national average that we read about 
in the newspapers. According to a recent study commissioned by Demos, 
nearly 45 percent of unemployed Americans are between those ages of 16 
and 34. The study also stated that 4.7 million young Americans are 
underemployed, working part-time, when what they really want to do is 
get full-time, family-sustaining, good-paying jobs. They don't have 
  As a result, young Americans are either unemployed or are 
underemployed and will likely lose a combined $20 billion in earnings 
over the next decade. That's from the Center for American Progress. 
Raising their college interest rates is going to further impact their 
ability to purchase homes, cars, to pay for their children to go to 
school, further dragging down our dragging economy.
  This is all on top of the cost of college. The average published 
tuition and fees for in-State students at public 4-year colleges in 
this country increased by 66 percent beyond the rate of inflation 
between the 2002-2003 and the 2012-2013 academic years. For private 
colleges, the tuition and fees increased by

[[Page H2905]]

27 percent beyond the rate of inflation in that comparable time period. 
Since 1982, the cost of college tuition and fees has gone up 582 
percent--twice the rate of medical care, which is also exploding as we 
all know.
  To help provide students and parents greater transparency as to the 
true cost of what a college education in total will cost, I introduced 
last week H.R. 2020, the Truth in Tuition Act, which will require 
schools to either present each incoming class of students with a 
multiyear tuition and fee schedule or to give each student a nonbinding 
estimate of what their education will cost them individually.

                              {time}  2030

  H.R. 2020, the Truth in Tuition Act, would require schools either to 
present each incoming class of students with a multiyear tuition and 
fee schedule or give each student a nonbinding estimate of what their 
education is going to cost them individually, taking into account 
tuition fees and that particular student's financial aid package.
  In this bill, there are no price caps, and it does not freeze the 
price of tuition. Schools are free to set tuition rates as they see 
fit. This legislation will help students and families plan by laying it 
out in front of them, what they can expect the entire cost of the 
college education to be, and make sure colleges and universities give 
every student a clear picture of what their degree will cost.
  Responsible colleges and universities are already doing this, and 
this is already the law in the State of Illinois. This is already 
happening. But it's the noncompliant, it's the colleges that maybe 
aren't going the extra mile to inform the students of what kind of fees 
and costs and tuition that they're facing during the whole course of 
their university or college career, it's the colleges and universities 
who are not revealing this that this bill is addressing.
  This legislation will help students and families plan for higher 
education by making sure that they get a clear picture of what the 
degree is going to cost. It's also going to cut down on excessive 
tuition and fee fluctuations. It's going to help rein in skyrocketing 
college costs, and it will encourage colleges to maintain some kind of 
level, nonfluctuating tuition schedule so that surprises don't happen 
to the students.
  It will also slow college dropout rates in this Nation. Colleges all 
across the country are experiencing dropouts for the very reason that 
the students didn't expect the tuition and fees to be raised the way 
they have been.
  The cost of a higher education and the debt carried by our recent 
graduates have skyrocketed across the last decade. It's the cost of the 
tuition and it's the interest attached to the debt that are the 
crippling features of this. Without having a full picture of college 
costs, students and their families are forced to take on more student 
loan debt than they originally anticipated. This bill, H.R. 2020, the 
Truth in Tuition Act, helps stop the uncertainty.
  A further advantage of it is in the pricing, colleges will think 
ahead about costs and have incentives to develop more restrained budget 
growth plans. Ultimately, advertised long-term pricing may encourage 
some colleges to limit their tuition growth voluntarily. In the event 
of severe economic hardship on the part of the college or the 
university, a dramatic reduction in State aid for higher education or 
other exceptional circumstances, this bill provides a waiver for the 
Secretary of Education to be able to issue to make sure that the 
schools are not detrimentally impacted.
  Mr. Speaker, I oppose H.R. 1911 because it allows the costs of 
college and university education to get out of hand because of interest 
rates, and I'm introducing H.R. 2020, the Truth in Tuition Act, in 
order to restrain costs to begin with. Doing both of these things is 
something we need to be doing in this Chamber because it is buttressing 
one of the foundations of the American middle class, allowing young 
people to complete the educations that they hope to complete, to become 
the people they want to be, to train themselves, to equip them to 
compete on a global scale and to achieve the American Dream ultimately, 
a dream that everyone needs to be able to achieve in this country. Once 
we start letting go of that, we start letting go of what this country 
is, the United States of America.
  Mr. POCAN. Thank you, Representative Cartwright. And thank you for 
your leadership on the Truth in Tuition bill. How apropos to be H.R. 
2020, to give a good direct vision on the reality of costs in higher 
  I can say one thing from being a State legislator for 14 years before 
I came here. I served during the period when the Federal economy 
collapsed and States had less and less money to invest in public 
universities. So often you hear about the rising costs in private 
universities, but even in a system like UW, Wisconsin, which is one of 
the premium, world-class university systems, the costs have gone up 
enough that it's harder and harder for that average person to be able 
to afford the education. So if they rely on the loans and the interest 
rates double or, worse yet, we pass H.R. 1911 and make them increase 
even more, you're taking that affordability out of even more people's 
  I just want to share a very short story, another story from someone 
who posted it on my Facebook page, and then I'd like to introduce 
another person on this issue.
  I asked for comments on a Facebook page, and I got a comment from a 
woman named Amber. It is short, but it is poignant.

       I haven't yet started paying back my loans. I graduate in 
     July. And as a single parent, I am terrified I will have to 
     choose between feeding my children and paying my loans. My 
     children will come first, but it still worries me that I'll 
     be strapped beyond what I can make at work.

  This is unfortunately what we are doing to the people who are 
currently graduating from higher institutes of education across the 
  Next I would like to yield some time to a very experienced colleague 
of mine, a well-respected colleague, a leader among progressives in 
this body, currently the cochair of the Congressional Progressive 
Caucus and an outstanding legislator from the neighboring State of 
Minnesota. I would like to yield some time to Mr. Keith Ellison from 
  Mr. ELLISON. Thank you, Congressman Pocan.
  Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely important topic.
  Mr. Speaker, I want to say that you should look at legislation like a 
sailboat on a still pond. It takes the American people, the wind, to 
move that boat sailing along. And on this student loan issue and on the 
access to education in this country, we need the American people, Mr. 
Speaker, to rise up and lift their voices and say, ``We demand 
affordable secondary college education.''

  There are great ideas. Congressman Cartwright has a brilliant idea, 
the Truth in Tuition Act. It is certainly superior to H.R. 1911, which 
is just deepening and worsening the problem of college affordability. 
But at the end of the day, the best ideas will sail when the students 
and the parents across the United States, Mr. Speaker, come together 
and say, ``We insist on quality, affordable education.''
  Do you know that there are at least 20 million borrowers across the 
United States for higher ed every year? About 20 million people borrow 
money every year to go to some form of higher ed: for-profit, 
nonprofit, private, whatever. It's a lot of people.
  The fact is, Mr. Speaker, if those people, just them, said, ``These 
interest rates are not fair. This tuition is not fair. We deserve 
access to higher education,'' it would change everything.
  Thirty-seven million people owe some sort of tuition payment, and 
about 5 million of those, according to the statistics I have, are late 
by at least 1 month. If those people came together and said, ``We're 
going to form ourselves into an organization and we're going to demand 
better terms,'' they could move mountains.
  But this is a civil rights issue. I'm not talking about color or 
gender or sexual orientation or anything like that. I'm talking about 
Americans, middle class people wanting to be a part of the American 
  Let me wrap up by saying this, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Pocan, you've been 
doing an awesome job with the progressive message. But I think that 
what we're doing with the progressive message is trying to help the 
American people

[[Page H2906]]

imagine America as a generous, inclusive society that accepts people 
from all walks of life and that it preserves the ladder of opportunity.
  We believe we should have early childhood education so that the young 
ones can get a head start on a good life.
  We believe in solid, quality K-12, and that the kids should have 
nutrition and be safe while they're at the schoolhouse.
  We believe that when they get to college, they should be able to seek 
their dream and be who they want to be, as Mr. Cartwright so eloquently 
  And we believe people ought to be able to be paid fairly when they're 
in their adult life and take care of their family and be able to go to 
the doctor.
  And we believe that when people reach their golden years, they ought 
to be able to retire with dignity, so we protect Social Security.

                              {time}  2040

  Cradle to the grave, Americans dream of prosperity. It's not too much 
to ask for in the richest country in the history of the world, but a 
key link in that quality life of prosperity in this country is college 
affordability. And it is something that if you want it, you've got to 
fight for it. Nobody is going to hand it to you. And when Americans 
wanted to see civil rights before the law, when they wanted to see 
African Americans have civil rights, women have civil rights, when they 
wanted to see people on the job, workers have some voice on the job, 
they stood up and they said, ``We've got to rearrange this deal.'' When 
we said that our environment was getting poisoned and dirty and they 
needed to demand that industry do something to make sure we had a 
cleaner environment, people stood up, Mr. Speaker, and they did 
something about it. And this is what we have to do right now.
  So I just want to say to you, Mr. Pocan, and you, Mr. Speaker, this 
is an excellent opportunity to raise key issues about a central issue 
of American prosperity for working and middle class people.
  I do thank the gentleman from Wisconsin.
  Mr. POCAN. Thank you very much, Representative Ellison. Your 
leadership for many years in this body has been well appreciated. I 
want to thank you for bringing back really the central theme of the 
Congressional Progressive Caucus. When we had a budget, it was the 
back-to-work budget. It's about fighting on behalf of the middle class. 
We saw the Republican budget in this House balance the budget on the 
backs of the middle class. But our budget had the back of the middle 
class and those aspiring to be in the middle class. And one of those 
fundamental equalizers is that opportunity to get a higher education, 
to advance in society, to change your economic outlook.
  I grew up in a lower middle class family. I not only had student 
loans, I also had Pell Grants. I was fortunate. But back when I went to 
college, you were still able to pay back your loans often in about a 5-
year period. But more and more, it's a 10-year, 20-year payment back in 
order to be able to afford those rising student costs, and that is 
taking a bite not only out of the current economy, but out of the 
opportunities for those people getting those degrees so they can 
improve their lives and their family's lives and rise either into the 
middle class or to better their lives overall.
  So the Congressional Progressive Caucus has had this as a central 
focus: How can we help lift those in poverty to the middle class and 
help those in the middle class to have every chance at opportunity that 
they should have? Those student loans are a crucial part of that. If we 
let this bill pass, H.R. 1911, tomorrow, in this body, we will put a 
financial burden on the backs of those who need it the most, those who 
are taking out loans to afford college. And if we do nothing as a body, 
the interest rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent come July 
1. Congress has to act.
  Now this body has been able to vote 37 times to try to repeal the 
Affordable Care Act and the benefits to America's families from the 
Affordable Care Act--37 times--yet we have not found a way yet to fix 
the student loan crisis, and we simply need to do that. And that's why 
the Progressive Caucus is fighting so hard to do that.
  I would like to close with one final story. Again, One Wisconsin Now 
had collected some stories, and this is from a woman from Wisconsin 
named Diana. Let me read her story:

       I graduated from a 4-year college in 2006. Today, 7 years 
     later, my loan payments are over $600 per month. To put that 
     in perspective, our combined household income is roughly 
     $48,000 per year. That's 15 percent of our income before 
     taxes. That's money that's not going into our retirement 
     funds, not going towards a new home, not going towards a 
     child's college fund, and certainly not going back into the 
     economy in a productive way. My husband and I have been 
     forced to make major life decisions based on my student loan 
     debt alone. Unfortunately, there's no end in sight with 
     regard to my student loans. My interest rates vary from 4.5 
     percent to 11.25 percent. Some of the payments I make cover 
     interest alone. My principal balance hasn't changed in months 
     on some of my private loans. This is not what I envisioned 
     when I was applying for colleges my senior year of high 

  These are the real stories from people in Wisconsin, but they're no 
different from stories of people across the country.
  We have heard tonight, and I want to thank Representative Jeffries 
from New York, Representative Cartwright from Pennsylvania, and 
Representative Ellison from Minnesota for coming and sharing those 
strong words about why we need to address this issue and why it is such 
a crucial issue--not a Democratic issue, not a Republican issue, not an 
Independent issue, but an American issue, especially for those in the 
middle class and those aspiring to be in the middle class.
  We need, Mr. Speaker, to act on this. Mr. Speaker, we need to act on 
this soon, before July 1. But, Mr. Speaker, I'm sorry, but H.R. 1911, 
the bill before this body tomorrow, will only make the situation worse. 
I urge my colleagues to vote against it.
  Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.