Bustos: Student loan battle proof of 'do-nothing Congress'


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Originally Posted Online: May 09, 2012, 7:50 pm
Last Updated: May 09, 2012, 8:42 pm
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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

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."


The Associated Press contributed to this story.



 














 



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