Kathy Castor pushes for Congress to pass student loan bill

Republicans want to the money to keep interest rates loans to come from a $17 billion prevention and public health fund created in the Affordable Care Act for immunization campaigns, research, screenings and wellness education.

"I know that the GOP does not like health care reform," Castor said when questioned about the Republicans' plan. "But they've gone to that same place over and over again."

Castor says despite the the measure passing 215-195 in the GOP-led House, she doesn't think the Republicans sincerely want to reduce the interest rates for college students.

"It was a very abrupt about face," she said of the scramble to have that vote by the end of last week.

It's been reported that some Republicans don't believe that the government should be involved in the student loan market, but that Speaker Boehner was able to push enough of his caucus to pass the bill last week. Mitt Romney also came out in favor of keeping the interest rates at the lower level.

House Democrats introduced a bill keeping the interest rates from rising for a year by eliminating subsidies to large oil and gas companies. Senate Democrats want to pay for extending the interest rates by making it harder for high-earning owners of many privately owned corporations to shield some of their income from Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes.

The Associated Press reports that Democrats voted earlier this year to take money from that same preventive health fund to help keep doctors' Medicare reimbursements from dropping. They also report that Obama's own budget in February proposed cutting $4 billion from the same fund to pay for some of his priorities.

Joining Congresswoman Castor at the news conference was SPC student John Pecora. He said if he has to start paying 6.8 percent on his student loans, the "financial dynamic" of his education would be severely upended.

"My goal is to teach...but if I'm strapped because of financial payments, how effective am I going to be in my career? How worried am I going to be about paying that money back?" he asked.

Mark Lombardi-Nelson is president of student government at USFSP. He says the current interest rate of 3.4 percent to pay back his Stafford student loan is fair, but says after speaking with many of the students on campus, they can't afford to pay double the current rate.

"We can't pay. We really can't. It affects us negatively. We cannot have a positive influence on our education if we have to pay more. And loans are how we're doing it."

Again, the deadline for Congress to come together for a solution on the situation is 61 days from now: July 1.

  • This sign indicates the number of days before interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans are scheduled to double

Last Friday, after the GOP-led House passed legislation that would prevent federal loan costs from doubling for millions of college students, House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans accused Democrats and President Obama of playing politics with the issue, since they say both parties are in agreement that the interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans should stay at 3.4 percent for another year, rather than automatically growing to 6.8 percent on July 1.

But Tampa area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor says that's not exactly true.

Appearing in front of the Midtown campus of St. Petersburg College with over a dozen SPC students standing behind her, Castor said the GOP scrambled to hold a vote on the issue last week only after Obama had successfully put them on their heels by barnstorming the country about the issue last week.

"In their budget, they did not address the student loan increase," she said of the Paul Ryan-crafted economic plan. "They kept it in on track to increase."

Although the bill was passed in the Republican House, it's considered DOA in the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate because of how the GOP wants to pay to keep down the interest rates.

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