Rubio: "The interest rate is a problem. Not having a job is a catastrophe. The interest rate could be zero, but if you don't have a job how are you going to pay it? And that's the number one issue facing these graduates, and no one is doing anything about it."
Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Floor Speech
May 9, 2012
Thank you, Mr. President. I have followed with great interest this week the conversation in the Senate about student loans, the bill that we’re currently on, to proceed to a bill on student loan interest. I’ve followed it with great interest for a couple reasons: first of all in the state of Florida obviously, as across the country, there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people that are either on student loans and are paying them back or are relying on them to go to school in the future. So, it is clearly an issue that affects the state of Florida where I come from. And I have a personal interest in the student loan issue as well. I think I’ve said this on the floor before. My parents worked very hard, but they were never able to save enough money to pay for my college. And so I relied on grants and on loans, both for undergraduate education but especially for my law school education.
I came back to Miami to go to law school and I’m glad I went to the University of Miami. If they’re watching, I’m proud to have gone there. I think the education I got there, my legal education, was very good. It also happened to be very, very expensive, and I relied on student loans to be able to pay that. So much so that when I graduated from law school in 1996, I graduated with a law degree and a significant amount of student debt that I had accumulated throughout seven years of studies. In fact I’m still paying one of those loans today. I think, I may be wrong, but I know of only one other senator who is paying off student loans right now. I’ve paid, as I joked in the past, about $723 a month to somebody named Sallie Mae, who is, all joking aside, the servicer who collects on these loans.
It’s an issue that I understand and it’s an issue that I care about, both on a personal level but also because of the people that I represent. It’s also an issue, by the way, this week that’s allowed me to maybe use it as a point of illustration to the people back home that are watching this debate. After my first year here, one of the questions that people always ask me is, “What is it like in the Senate?” And let me begin by saying I’m honored and privileged to serve here. There isn’t a day that I don’t walk into this building and even into this very room and not be taken back by the history that’s been made on this floor, by the great men and women that have served our country from it, and by the wonderful Americans that I serve with even now. As I have bragged to people who are watching, either that I’ve talked to or whatever, I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone in the Senate in the year and half that I’ve been here and I’m very proud to be a part of this institution.
But there are things about it that trouble me, particularly at this moment in American history and maybe this week allows us to illustrate that better than any other week since I’ve been here.
Everyone agrees that interest rates on student loans cannot go up. Everyone agrees on this. There hasn’t really been a debate on that. I haven’t run into anybody in either party that has come to me or I’ve heard them say, “You know what? Let the interest rate go up, let students pay more.” There isn’t any argument about that. The argument is simply this: How do we pay for it? We have to pay for it. Because if we’re going to keep their interest rates on these federally subsidized loans, if we’re going to keep the interest rate down, we have to pay for it. We have to find the money from somewhere to pay for it. And so the debate really, and the disagreement, to the extent that it’s a complicated disagreement, I don’t believe that it is. The disagreement is not about the student interest rates. The disagreement is about how do we pay for the cost of keeping the rates low for another year. And there is a difference of opinion.
Now, I’m new to the Senate. I’m not new to legislation. I spent nine years in the Florida Legislature, two years as the Speaker. We dealt with complicated issues there as well. And what we would do in those instances where there was a disagreement, not on what we wanted to accomplish, but on how to get there, is you work on it. You sit people down and say, "OK, it’s not that much money." In terms of, by federal standards, it sounds crazy to say that because we’re talking about billions of dollars, but from federal standards it’s not that complicated an issue. Let’s sit down, let’s get some like-minded people together and let’s figure out a bipartisan way to pay for what we all agree we need to do. That is the normal, regular way to deal with an issue like this.
That is not what’s happened here. Why hasn’t that happened here? Why are smart, well educated, intelligent people that serve in this chamber, why have they not met and discussed a way to pay for this? Because it’s not really that complicated. It wouldn’t take that long to come up with a way to pay for it that both sides agree on. Why hasn’t that happened? And the answer to that question is something people back home are not going to like. People who are here today visiting are not going to like to hear, and whoever’s watching on television right now isn’t going to like. The reason is, because that’s the way things have been here since I’ve gotten here: It’s about politics. Shocking as that may be, there is politics in this process, and that’s what’s influencing this here today.
A few weeks ago, the President made a decision that this was an issue that he wanted to use. His campaign and his folks made a decision that student loan debt and the interest rate was a perfect opportunity to use as, yet again, another wedge issue. The latest wedge issue, and you’ve seen a series of them, the latest wedge issue is: let’s campaign on the idea that Republicans are not in favor of students and let’s use this student loan issue as an example of that. Of course those plans kind of got messed up when Republican said, “No, we agree with you. We can’t let student interest rates go up either.”
So they’re off balance for a couple days even though, by the way, the President continued to travel the country and campaign on keeping student loan rates down, even though no one was against him. He was campaigning against his opponents on this issue, even though there were no opponents on this issue. But nevertheless, after a couple of days of figuring out, “Hey, we’re going to lose this wedge issue,” they came up with a second way to deal with it. And that is: let’s bring this issue to a vote on the floor, but let’s build it in such a way, let’s put a bill on the floor of the Senate that we know will fail, that we know Republicans can’t vote on.
It wasn’t, “Let’s kind of meet and see where we can agree on how to pay for this so we can get something done.” It’s: “Let’s put a bill on the floor that we know Republicans will never support, designed specifically to fail. So that we can then spend a week talking about this on the Sunday talk shows and speeches on the floor and missives from the campaign.” It’s about messaging in a country where our national debt now equals the size of our economy. In a country where we are five, six months away from catastrophic increases in taxes. In a country who just last Friday we learned job creation and job growth is stagnant.
Where millions of Americans have been out of work for two years or longer. In a country where millions of Americans have stopped looking for work, they’ve become so depressed. The United States Senate has wasted yet another week on a show, on a show. When in fact this is an easy issue for us to have come together and solved. This is not new by the way. This has been the mode of operation for most of the weeks that I’ve been in the United States Senate. It’s a pretty familiar pattern. The campaign for the President decides on an issue they want to use to divide Americans for electoral purposes. The Senate offers up a bill they know Republicans will vote against, and then they spend a week giving speeches on it. The only difference with this one is they’re doubling down on it. We’re going to vote on the exact same thing a second time, just to drive the point home.
Here’s why this bothers me. Number one, because there are real issues this country faces, issues that deserve a sense of urgency, issues that deserve every single person that serves here to solve them. This is one of them by the way. We don’t have time to waste on shows. It bothers me. The second reason why it bothers me is these are real people that are being impacted by this issue. There are real people out there, that because they can’t find a job when they graduate, they’ve got to get a forbearance. Forbearance means they’ve got to call their lender and say, “I can’t pay you.” You know what happens when you get a forbearance on your loan? It compounds. It sits there unpaid. You’re not delinquent. They give you a grace period where you don’t have to pay it, but I compounds. The interest rate is added to the principal. And so by the time you start paying it, your loan is even bigger than the loan you took out of college.
There are other people that can only afford to make X amounts of payments a month because they’re not making as much money. Maybe they didn’t find the job they thought they were going to have, so all they can do is pay the interest on the loan. You know what that means? That means that by the time they finish off paying off these loans their kids will be in college. And let me tell you in the real life of someone that has a loan because I’ve had these loans and I still have one. What it means in the real life of a person who has a loan like this is the following: You can’t save for your own kids’ college. Which means that not only will you have student loan debt, but your children will be stuck with student loan debt as well.
What bothers me about this issue is that instead of solving it, we have spent a week playing a game with it while real people are out there scared to death. Real students, real parents, real families who are facing the threat not just of this increase in this interest rate, but of an economy that doesn’t have a job for them. You think the interest rate is the biggest risk that these people are running? It is not. The interest rate is a problem. Not having a job is a catastrophe. The interest rate could be zero, but if you don’t have a job how are you going to pay it? And that’s the number one issue facing these graduates, and no one is doing anything about it.
Now what I would suggest, if this was a place that was really working to solve problems. What we would have done, what we would do right now is stop this process, go back there somewhere, get a few people that know how to solve this together, and come back here. I guarantee you that if we decide we want to solve it, it won’t take long.
Here’s what else I guarantee you: This is going to get solved. You mark my words. A few weeks from now, they’ll come up with a deal, or a bill that will have enough votes to pass the House and Senate, and this will get solved. But not before we score political points, right? This will get solved, but not before the people that care more about politics than policy score their political points on this issue.
Now look, I’ve been around politics. I understand that this is an election year and election year stuff is going to happen. But why are we playing with the lives of real people? These are real people that are hurting here and their lives, and their experiences and their worries are being used as a pawn in a political game and it’s wrong.
I’ll make another prediction for you. Next week it will be another wedge issue of the week. Next week, we will be right back here debating another bill that was designed to fail on purpose so we can give another week’s worth of talking points on yet another issue.
The good news is the people in this city unfortunately think they’re smarter than they really are. People back home know all this. They can see it for what it is. People aren’t dumb. The American people certainly aren’t dumb. They can see right through this stuff and they understand exactly what’s happening here. So my suggestion would be that, on this issue, let’s come together. Let’s say this is one of those issues that is so important, that impacts so many people in such a significant way that it should be above politics. Let’s get together over the next 48 hours. It doesn’t sound like this place is overworked. If you look around the room here, what are we doing all week? What’s going on all week? We voted on a few judges and we’ve given a bunch of speeches. Why don’t we go somewhere and get a group of people to work on this issue and come back with a solution? This can be solved, but what’s going on now is a disservice to the people who sent us here, they deserve better, they really do.
The American people deserve better. The people we represent, the people that hired us to do the job we have now, they deserve better than this sort of theater. The Senate’s become a theater. It’s become a show and that’s why people get grossed out by politics. That’s why people watch the news at night and just don’t understand this whole thing. They have a right to be frustrated. They have a right to be upset. They have a right to be impatient with us because nothing is happening on the issues that matter to their real lives.
I hope this pattern will stop. Look, I get it, there will still be plenty of other issues that we’ll have an argument about in this election and that’s good for our country, that we have a good debate on the issues of the day. But on the ones that we can solve, on the ones that we agree on, on the ones that we agree on that impact the real lives of real people, stop the games and let’s get something done. Thank you.