Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference Reintroducing the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act
Mar 18, 2015
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY), Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT), Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) held a press conference todayon the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which Congressman Courtney will re-introduce in the House tomorrow. Below is a transcript of the Leader’s remarks followed by the question and answer session:
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you, Mr. Courtney, for introducing the bill once again. Thank you to my colleagues for their leadership, as well as sharing their personal stories. I want to associate my remarks with all of them, and just say this: when we go to the budget table to talk, when we try to have bipartisan agreement, our Republican colleagues are always talking about: “We cannot heap mountains of debt on to future generations.” They don’t mind heaping mountains of debt when they want to give tax breaks to the wealthy, tax expenditures, tax loopholes to special interests – which are costs to the budget, which increase the deficit.
And we’re saying, what brings the most money to the Treasury is investment in education – early childhood, K-12, higher education, post-grad, lifetime learning for our workers. Nothing brings more money to the treasury than investments in education. So we all agree, we do not heap mountains of debt onto our future generations. But we don’t want to heap mountains of debt on to individual American students and their families. And that’s where we have this division, as to the mountain of debt. So it’s clear. Everyone would agree that this isn’t fair, I would think – I mean, we don’t always get that agreement with our colleagues, because they would say it’s better to cut Pell Grants than to remove a tax break for Big Oil. We’ve had those disagreements about the value of education to our society, to our competitiveness, and to reducing our deficit.
But I want to make this further point: the vitality of our economy depends on small businesses; it depends on entrepreneurship; it depends on taking risks. And it’s very hard for these people, coming out of school and for years to come, to be able to be entrepreneurial. You’ll see studies, Mr. Israel can attest to the recent studies where young people are not as entrepreneurial as they used to be. And that’s not a good thing for them, or for the dynamism of our economy. And one of the reasons had been, of course, the uncertainty in our economy. But now, as that is turning around, another anchor – not an anchor, an anvil holding them back are student loans. It even holds up people from getting married and starting a family and all that means to community, and the rest. In other words, it diminishes the options for young people to get on with their future – personally, professionally, and in every other way.
So what Mr. Courtney is doing – the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which was introduced in the last Congress – Republicans blocked action on it. They refused to address the issue that weighs like an anvil so much on the lives of hardworking Americans. This all comes back to what President Obama talked about – middle class economics versus trickle-down economics. The success of the middle class is the success of our economy. The reason we have not had the full recovery is because the middle class does not have full confidence. They don’t have big enough paychecks. The cost of education weighs heavily on them, whether they are parents, or whether they’re students. And until they have that confidence to consume, we won’t have the full recovery.
So, when the middle class succeeds, America succeeds. And it can only succeed by investing in the education of our young people, to keep America number one and to rid families of the oppression of these enormous student loans. With that, I’m sure my colleagues would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Again, thank you, Mr. Courtney. Thank you, Mr. Ellison, for your leadership on this; Congresswoman Kuster and Congressman Israel. Bobby Scott, our Ranking Member on the Committee, had a Secretary on his Committee, so he couldn’t be with us, but he shares our concern.
Q: I have a question for you, Madam Leader. I’m sorry, it’s not about this…
Leader Pelosi. Okay, why don’t we stay with this for a moment and then I’ll come back to that. Any questions on this legislation and what it means to our economy and what it means to America’s families? Yes?
Q: Madam Leader, we just had a student loan deal in recent congresses. In terms of opening this up, can I be very technical and ask, sort of, where the venues are for this because the last time there was action on student loans at all, it was with a crisis point. And as you know quite well, Congress for the last couple of congresses seems to work very efficiently around a moment of deadline and somewhat less so when not…
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think you contradicted yourself there. You aren’t efficient if you’re just acting in deadline mode.
Congressman Courtney. Yesterday, the Education Committee, the higher [education] subcommittee which I sit on, we actually had our first hearing on the Higher Education Reauthorization, Act which is now two years late in terms of getting updated. There are so many issues in terms of FAFSA reforms, the year-round Pell Grant that needs to be addressed, and quite frankly, there’s bipartisan support on a couple of those issues as well. But this is the 600-pound gorilla in the room which is the trillion dollars that’s overhanging the economy. And, in my opinion, in 2012 and 2013 when we did pass those measures for new loans that are being issued, it was not just because of a deadline, it was also because of public opinion. The Republican position, which was initially just to ignore the doubling of the rates, became totally untenable because all of us were on the floor pounding away on it, students were submitting petitions. And frankly, that hasn’t gone away. Steve can talk about that now. In terms of polling, as far as middle class – this is at the absolute sort of red zone in terms of people’s anxieties and anger at Washington in terms of not addressing it.
So I still think that the environment, the public opinion environment, combined with the need to do a Higher Ed Reauthorization Act – you can’t do that measure without including the Stafford Program.
Q: And then the second thing I’d ask on that is, since this – from your description – is a paid for situation – are you looking at a budget amendment next week? Could we see a test vote on this issue as soon as next week?
Congressman Courtney. I’m sure Mr. Van Hollen and others which are now still just trying to digest what got released yesterday, we’re going to have, I’m sure, good strategies to raise this issue.
Leader Pelosi. This is fundamental. This is very important to us. As you know, this was part of the Affordable Care Act. It was two trains, a dual track – Affordable Care Act and the Higher Education Affordability piece of that. It was so urgent then but much of that has expired and there’s need to – not only as we go forward, but as we deal with the loan that exists now.
Congresswoman Kuster. I just want to add that what I think will be different this session is that the business community is speaking up at this point. We’ve heard [about] meetings with home builders. I can say in New Hampshire, for the first time ever, our unemployment has dropped this morning below four percent. And what happens in that scenario is that I have businesses coming to me saying, “I can’t find the graduates that I need.” And part of that is because people aren’t taking the chance to go get further education because they can’t afford it. And so we’re going to start to hear now that’s different than the last two years is the business community coming forward saying: “We need to invest in our future. We need to grow our economy, and we’ve got to deal with this student loan issue.”
Leader Pelosi. On this subject?
Q: Just to clarify that last question, it doesn’t sound like you’re expecting a test vote on this in the next week or so when the House is dealing with the budget.
Congressman Israel. We don’t know.
Congresswoman Kuster. We don’t know.
Leader Pelosi. We just got the budget yesterday.
Congresswoman Kuster. Stay tuned.
Congressman Israel. And we reserve all strategies to be deliberated upon and deployed at our discretion.
Leader Pelosi. Let’s see what options are available to us.
Yes, ma’am, you had your question?
Before we go there, let me just ask: my colleagues, do you have any other comments to make on any of this?
Congressman Courtney. Yeah, I just want to – in terms of the anvil that the Leader talked about, the Pew Research Center, they just came out with a poll: between 25 percent and 40 percent of borrowers report postponing homes, cars, and other major purchases; half say their student loans increase their risk on defaulting on other bills; and strikingly, 45 percent of graduates age 24 and younger are living at home or with a family member – again, because of the fact that they are just trapped with this. And that’s a very unstable, political environment for the Republicans to stonewall this issue and I just think – beware if you think you can get away with that.
Leader Pelosi. And further to that point, people can’t always reach their own aspirations because they can’t continue their education beyond college into specialties because the costs are just so prohibitive for such a very long time for them. We don’t want the magnificent potential of America to be wasted because of this subject when it’s easily curable.
Q: I wondered how the bipartisan talks with the Republicans for a permanent solution on the doc fix were going and whether you think you’ll be able to announce something this week?
Leader Pelosi. I don’t know when the announcement will be, but we are proceeding in a positive way. It is an engine that is going to leave the station and hence, every idea that couldn’t find an engine before wants to be on it. So we are trying to be respectful of the requests of colleagues. But I think we will have bipartisan agreement and it will be a good agreement. And I don’t know the timetable.
Q: Do you know how much of it will be paid for?
Leader Pelosi. Well, when we release it, you’ll see.
Q: Madam Leader, I was wondering if you could react to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s victory – first, your general reaction and then what that might mean to the peace process ongoing and the negotiations regarding Iran…
Leader Pelosi. Well, the people of Israel have spoken. I respect the results that they have produced. I think that what they have produced will be a continued lively discussion about the peace process. I mentioned, though, that when the Prime Minister was here recently he really did not talk about the peace process. Perhaps it will emerge now in the discussion. But our relationship with Israel is a strong one – it will always be. It doesn’t depend on personalities; it’s about values that we share. And we look forward to continuing our work together. It’s important for Israel, it’s very important for the United States. Thank you, I have to go to work.
Q: Madam Leader, with Secretary Carter and General Dempsey here today talking about the AUMF, I’m wondering if you have an opinion on the President’s Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
Leader Pelosi. You know, the President’s offer was – he put something on the table and then he said to Congress: “You add upon it, comment on it.” So, people are making judgments on it one way or the other when all they have to do is make some suggestions. I think the President has plenty authority to do what he’s doing. If he were to do more, I think he needs the authorization of Congress, but I don’t think that it’s productive just to say what his isn’t. He put something on the table. Do something more or less but let Congress take the responsibility to put something forward now. Thank you.