After months of protests by student activists, the U.S. Congress passed the Budget Reconciliation Bill by a margin of two votes yesterday, cutting $12.7 billion from federally funded student loans.
In a 216 to 214 vote, the House of Representatives assessed the bill, which made one-third of its budget cuts to financial aid programs. The bill increases the interest rates per student loan from 4.7 percent to 6.8 percent, costing students an extra $5,800 to $6,000 for their college education. The bill also made federal budget cuts to Medicaid, child-support enforcement and Medicare programs.
The House originally passed the bill on Dec. 19, 2005 with a vote of 212 to 206, followed by a favorable vote in the Senate of 51 to 50 on Dec. 21. However, the vote was returned to the House due to procedural changes in the Senate. The bill now goes to the desk of President George W. Bush.
Associated Students State Affairs Organizing Director Bill Shiebler said the bill will affect about 67,000 out of the UC system’s 200,000 students and 28 percent of UCSB students.
Shiebler said the average student currently graduates college $20,000 in debt. He said he hopes students will remember this vote when considering representatives in the future.
“I think it’s an outrage that Congress decided to balance a budget deficit that was created by a president that has a trillion-dollar deficit from the war in Iraq on the backs of students,” Shiebler said.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-23, said she has opposed the bill since its inception.
“I refuse to accept the logic that we can no longer afford to help students pay for their education, but we can spend billions on tax cuts for the wealthy,” Capps said. “Students deserve better, and Congress needs to deliver. A college degree is a huge advantage in achieving the American Dream. I strongly believe that the federal government should be making it easier for students to get a college education, not harder.”
On Tuesday, UCSB students joined students across the country to partake in the United States Student Association (USSA) National Day of Action in order to urge members of Congress to oppose the budget cuts.
Members of A.S. and consumer advocacy group CalPIRG encouraged 208 students and faculty members to call representatives from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside the Arbor. UCSB was one of over 700 schools that joined in for USSA’s National Day of Action, said A.S. External Vice President Felicia Cruz.
Students who participated made calls to the White House and were transferred to the office phones of their representatives.
Shiebler said it is important for students to call representatives from across the nation to remind them that their decisions affect the entire country. He said the Day of Action targeted one representative at a time, urging them to change their votes. Calls were made to Michigan Congressman Joe Schwarz, R-7, and Pennsylvania Congressman, R-6.
Schwarz spokesman Matt Marsden said he believed the representative was unconvinced by the protests.
“Representative Schwarz said nothing to myself nor any member of the press to indicate that he would be voting no,” Marsden said. “Rep. Schwarz has always planned to vote in support of budget reconciliation. He believes that somewhere, at some point, you’ve got to curb your spending.”
Schwarz voted in favor of the bill, while Gerlach voted against it.