As residents of "the swing area of the swing state" of Florida, and recent college graduates, we've got a message for Congress: Florida students are watching, and we vote.
It would appear that last Friday, Congress actually listened -- because the two Houses managed to pass a bill that benefits students. HR 4348, the "Surface Transportation Act of 2012," focuses on the expansion of highway and infrastructure projects, but it also brings attention to another type of infrastructure -- higher education.
On July 1st, the federal student loan interest rate was set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. If Congress failed to act, 7.4 million students would lose about $1,000 each. With less than 48 hours before the deadline, Congress extended the interest rate by one year as part of HR 4348. The impact of this bill on students is tremendous. With student loan debt exceeding credit card at $1 trillion, and tuition rising, doubling the interest rate on federal student loans is a serious setback from young Americans. Considering that, it's no wonder why so many are praising Congress for this bill.
But we are not impressed.
As recent graduates from the University of Central Florida (UCF), and soon-to-be graduate students, we realize that education is the key to personal and professional success. Every individual should have access to whatever form of education he or she wishes to pursue, no matter his or her political party or ideology. Our public servants should reflect those ideals.
Preventing interest rates on student loans from doubling less than 48 hours away from the deadline -- and less than 17 weeks away from Election Day -- is not our idea of government working for the people. To us, it's more like government working to win re-election. You only have to look at prior attempts to prevent the doubling of interest rates to realize that.
In April 2012, the House of Representatives passed legislation to extend the low interest rates for students. It should be noted that the House's version was paid for by cutting from the preventive health care fund, a fund intended to increase the size of the health care workforce and implement community-based health care initiatives; not help students pay for college. Nonetheless, the bill passed with something you could call bipartisan support. The Senate, on the other hand, is a different story.
Rather than support students on the backs of the sick, Senate Democrats proposed paying for the extension by raising Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on certain high-earners. Of course, asking rich people to pay their fair-share doesn't bide too well for the Republican Party's campaign finance reports; consequentially the bill failed to pass a key procedural motion. The vote was down party lines, with Senate Republicans successfully blocking the bill.
Fast forward two months later, and it would seem Congress had a change of heart. Students came together and demanded an extension. President Obama took on the topic as a hot campaign issue, bringing it into mainstream media through twitter and through his "slow jamming of the news" with comedian Jimmy Fallon.
With the Senate voting 74-19 in favor of the extension last Friday, several Republicans changed their tune since that last May vote. Yet there are still a few who didn't seem to get the memo; and that includes our own Florida Senator, Marco Rubio -- who voted no on both occasions.
Rubio decided to vote against extending these low student loan rates just over a week after Florida's public universities were forced to raise tuition, some up to 15 percent. The hikes are a direct result of Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott's $300 million cuts to higher education. Rubio may not be in line with his fellow Republican Senators, but he is certainly on the same page as Rick Scott.
After voting against Florida's students on Friday, he had the audacity to start his Florida book tour the very next day. Titled, An American Son: A Memoir, Rubio's book focuses on his life and journey to public service; he hopes "the lessons in it will inspire people."
Well Senator, we have a lesson for you -- if you want to inspire us, then you shouldn't vote against us. And based on your voting history against women, immigrants, and the middle class, it seems like you're out to kill the American dream, not fulfill it. As women of color born to immigrant parents, we had hopes that you would bring a new voice from a new generation to Congress. Instead you've consistently voted against your own community, and even residents in your own home town of Miami are taking action, approaching you at your book tour, and coining you as a traitor.
Rubio's book tour is just another political game based on an election timeline. But with teenage unemployment hovering at 24 percent, and 14 percent for those in our age group, 20 - 24, there is no more time for political games. As far as we're concerned, there's only one word for a politician like Rubio, and that word is traitor.
As young adults, the only thing worth celebrating from last week is the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to this historic healthcare reform bill from 2010, 6.6 million young Americans will be able to stay on their parent's insurance plan till they're 26. That's how we define progress.
But even here in the state of Florida, Rick Scott has refused additional Medicaid money from the federal government to support poor and working-class families. Rubio has also stated his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. As appalling as it may sound, we have politicians literally campaigning to take away healthcare from millions of Americans and pile more debt on students.
Despite what Rubio, Scott and their buddies might think, students are watching -- and one vote isn't going to change the facts. Despite the extension of low interest rates for federal student loans, we realize there is little reason to celebrate -- but every reason to vote.