Emilia Strnad is a sophomore at Augustana College who already has racked up $25,000 in debt, even with the support of Pell grants and subsidized loans.
"I'm definitely scared," she said, "especially if the interest rate goes up to 6.8 percent."
Ms. Strnad, of Appleton, Wis., is studying political science and psychology. On Wednesday, she listened to Cheri Bustos, the Democratic 17th District Congressional candidate, speak at one of her classes.
Her visit came a day after Republicans blocked U.S. Senate debate on the Democrats' version of a bill to keep interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent for another year, rather than automatically growing to 6.8 percent on July 1 as they would under a law enacted five years ago. The bill would pay for the extension by changing a law that lets some wealthy taxpayers avoid Social Security and Medicare taxes by classifying their pay as dividends instead of cash income.
The move was further evidence of the ineptitude of a "do-nothing Congress," Ms. Bustos said.
"There's a reason why the approval rating of Congress is in the single digits," she said.
"I've worked most of my career in the private sector where you've got to have results," Ms. Bustos said. "You've got to get things done."
On April 27, the House passed a GOP version of the bill. Democrats oppose that plan because it would be paid by abolishing a preventive health fund created by health care reform legislation.
Both Ms. Bustos, a former health-care executive, and her Nov. 6 opponent, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, agree on the need to stop the interest rate from rising. But Rep. Schilling, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday, supports the Republican plan.
Ms. Bustos said the two factions should seek a compromise. But she said the inability to even bring a bill to the Senate floor for debate left her wondering if that was possible.
Her Augustana conversations stretched beyond student loans to touch on energy policy, the lack of diversity in Congress, Medicare and Social Security. There were few votes for Ms. Bustos to win in the class; a majority of the students were from the Chicago area.
She told students her role model was the late Paul Simon, a liberal icon who represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate until 1997. When students were asked to raise their hands if they knew who Mr. Simon was, only two of about 15 popped up.
But even if her reference points didn't always tally with the students, Ms. Bustos was well-received.
"I think she's a very smart woman, and she has a lot of good views," Ms. Strnad said. "And it's nice to see a woman in politics."
Today is Monday, March 10, the 69th day of 2014. There are 296 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Numerous counterfeiters are around, taking advantage of the influx of currency to pass their worthless trash. 1889 -- 125 years ago: J.J. Reimers, secretary and treasurer of the Rock Island Lumber and Manufacturing Co., on behalf of that firm, contributed $500 toward construction of a new Methodist church. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Samuel Ryerson, county recorder, was re-elected president of the 19th District of Knights of Pythias. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Three condemnation suits have been filed by the city of Rock Island to acquire property needed for an approach to the Rock Island-Davenport bridge, which has been under construction since March 6. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Plans for an eight-story Sheraton Inn in downtown Rock Island were announced today at a luncheon meeting at the Gay Nineties sponsored by the Rock Island Chamber of Commerce. Cost of the structure is estimated at $2.5 million. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Representatives of the Hardee's Golf Classic and tournament sponsor Hardee's Food Systems may meet next week with PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman to discuss a possible change in the tournament dates.