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, Dec. 9, the 343rd day of 2013. There are 22 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: All last week were favored with the most delightful Indian summer weather. The mercury ranged from 40 to 65 degrees and the ice is entirely gone out of the river. 1888 — 125 years ago: W.D. Reimers was given charge of the Weyerhaeuser-Denkmann mill in Davenport. 1913 — 100 years ago: Eight hundred or more tons of earth in six landslides, covered 38th Street for a distance of 200 feet near 7th Avenue and destroyed much property. 1938 — 75 years ago: Patrolman Joseph H. Schnelder, of Moline, has been awarded four medals for proficiency in marksmanship. He is the crack pistol shot of the Rock Island district. 1963 — 50 years ago: For the 83rd year, George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" was performed at Augustana College ushering in the spiritual aspect of the Christmas season. 1988 — 25 years ago: A water main break Thursday night, the fourth this week, affected 35 homes near the 2200 block of 39th Street, Rock Island, city officials said today.