Bush: Back To The Bubble
Robert L. Borosage is co-director and Earl Hadley is education program coodinator at the Campaign For America's Future.
Confident that the audience at Kansas State University would be packed with presidential supporters, the White House decided to take the president out of his bubble and have him take a few unscripted questions from the audience.
Whoops. The problem with abandoning the script is that reality can intrude. In this case, it came in the person of Tiffany Cooper, a sophomore at Kansas State, who politely asked:
I was just wanting to get your comments about education. Recently 12.7 billion dollars was cut from education. I was just wondering how is that supposed to help our futures?
Bush looked like he had been hit by a two-by-four. First he pretended he didn't hear the question. Then he looked desperately back to aides for some help. Then he simply lied:
I think what we did was reform the student loan program. We are not cutting money out of it. In other words, people aren't going to be cut off the program. We're just making sure it works better as part of the reconciliation package I think she's talking about…We are saving money in the student loan program because it's inefficient.
Got that wrong. Secreted in the "reconciliation package" that the administration and the Republican majority in Congress are pushing is a staggering $12.7 billion cut in student loan programs—the largest cut in history.
That bulk of that cut will be paid in the form of higher interest rates and fees paid by students and their parents. On average, students will face an additional $2,000 in interest payments; parents an additional $3,000.
As for private lenders that provide student loans—they'll make out just fine. Rather than significantly cutting subsidies to private lenders, Rep. John Boehner—an architect of this legislation and a candidate for House majority leader—targeted working families for the cuts. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, Boehner met in December with private student lenders, who contribute handsomely to his campaigns, and said: "Relax. Stay calm. At the end of the day, I believe you'll be at least satisfied, or even perhaps happy. Know that I have all of you in my two trusted hands."
Those "trusted hands" don't protect students like Tiffany Cooper, or their parents. An additional $2,000 in costs doesn't seem like much to legislators like Boehner, who collect more in individual checks from well-heeled contributors. But for working families struggling to make ends meet, it cruelly adds to already growing burdens. College tuitions have gone up a staggering 40 percent in the last five years. State support for public universities has been cut. The Republican Congress, violating a promise Bush made while campaigning, has frozen maximum Pell Grants at the same level for the fourth straight year. The vast majority of students now borrow to help finance college. The average loan burden a student carries upon graduation is more than $19,000. Students from working families have little choice but to pile up debt, even while working part-time and piecing together grant opportunities.
Already, the burden of paying for college is closing the doors of higher education to deserving students. Most public colleges now report six-year rather than four-year graduation rates, because so many students have to drop out and work for a time to make ends meet.
This doesn't make sense. And the president and the Congress know it—so they don't admit what they are doing. The "spin" (Washington's fancy term for lie) is that they are "reforming" the lending program, not raising costs. And that they are "tightening our belts" to reduce staggering budget deficits. The reality is that students and parents will pay more for their loans, and these spending cuts will not even pay for the new tax cuts that the White House and the Republican majority are committed to passing this year. Working and middle-class families will pay the costs of the loans. And, not surprisingly, the affluent will pocket most of the savings. That's on top of the two tax cuts that went into effect this month, giving millionaires an average windfall of $19,000 a year.
Tiffany Cooper stunned the president by asking about this harsh reality. The president ducked. His obvious discomfort is likely to lead him back into his protected bubble. But Tiffany Cooper and students across the country will remain exposed to the twisted priorities and the costly corruptions of conservatives in power.