Congress considers cutting billions in aid

In an effort to reduce the federal budget by $50 billion, a U.S. House of Representatives committee has approved cuts to congressional student financial aid for students that could make it the largest downsizing ever for student aid.

The Education and Workforce committee approved, in a 22-19 vote, to take approximately $14.5 billion over five years from higher education financial aid, which has spurred opposition from local and national student groups.

“We cannot have an entire generation of educated youth in debt,” U.S. Student Association Vice President and former A.S. Presdient Jenn Pae stated in an e-mail. “This issue threatens the future of our generation and our country.”

Downsizing the benefits for student borrowers will add unnecessary burdens to universities, Pae said.

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and A.S. President Christopher Sweeten spoke out against the committee’s vote in a USSA-sponsored press conference on Nov. 1 at Price Center Plaza. The committee’s decision should incite a sense of urgency among students across the nation, said Fox, who is one of the few university chancellors in the country to speak out publicly against the cuts.

“This is a very important challenge we are all facing,” Fox said. “Any effort that shifts the responsibility from the federal government to the backs of students is not a prudent way to address the future. There is a challenge in affording higher education, but it must have access and affordability.”

The legislation entails a doubling of loan origination, from 1.5 percent to 3 percent, and would require a 1-percent insurance guarantee for lenders, according to Aaron Hunter, spokesman for Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego). For UCSD students, who currently don’t pay the guarantee fee, the change could cost more than $700,000.

However, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the committee’s chairman, touted the bill as a “common sense” plan. The proposal not only reduces wasteful spending by reducing subsidies paid to lenders, but is, in general, fiscally responsible, Boehner said.

“This plan accomplishes two very important goals,” Boehner stated in a press release. “It preserves and expands critical student benefits while simultaneously generating savings in higher education by making programs more efficient and effective.”

The committee’s vote was strictly divided along party lines, and drew sharp criticism from Democrats, who all voted against the bill.

“We would not be here today if it weren’t for the Bush administration’s misplaced priorities and irresponsible deficit-financed tax cuts,” Rep. David Wu (D-Oregon) stated in a press release.

Federal efforts should instead focus on increasing Pell grants and university accessibility, Wu said.

According to Boehner, the committee’s Democrats are hypocritical, as their short-term vision could endanger higher education in the future.

“Unfortunately, House Democrats have pushed fiscally irresponsible proposals that would actually weaken and destabilize the programs and threaten our ability to provide college access in the future,” he stated. “We cannot simply ignore the consequences of the policies we’re creating today.”

No matter how careless rejecting the bill might seem, students have an obligation to do just that, according to Sweeten.

“If this budget reconciliation was to pass, millions would be forced out of our system,” he said. “Our door should always maintain a status of a public school, and we need to make sure the campus can meet the need of all students who are eligible.”