10/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Spotlight on the House : An Agenda for Success

A few weeks ago, I moved my youngest daughter into her new dorm room in Vermont. After driving several hours north and lugging her belongings three flights up, I officially had two daughters in college. It's always been a goal in my family to send both of the kids to college. Finally getting there was a moment of great pride.

And then came a moment of great distress. Two students in school equals twice the tuition bills. With college costs hitting astronomical highs, it won't be easy on us.

When I travel around my congressional district on Long Island, people tell me the same story. They say they are too rich to qualify for federal assistance, but feel too poor to pay for college without serious financial strain.

Recently, I took a camera and visited the King Kullen grocery store in Commack, NY, to ask people where their costs are going up and what concerns them most. I expected everyone to say gas prices, and many people did. But, I also met several mothers and one young man who said financing college topped their list of concerns. The young man was trying to pay off his education costs, and the mothers were troubled by how high prices might be once their children get to school.

Middle class families are getting hit from all sides. They are taking care of their aging parents, they are taking care of their children, they are trying to make sure they have health insurance if they change jobs, they are saving for retirement, and they are and they are dealing with increasing prices of basic goods such as gas and groceries.

In Congress, we can and need to do more to make it easier for families to succeed. Today, I announced the formation of the Democratic Middle Class Working Group. My colleagues and I have been working together to craft legislation that will ease the squeeze on middle class families. Our legislative agenda starts with 13 bills that will address college affordability, elder care, health insurance, retirement savings, small business, and energy costs.

One of the bills I'm sponsoring will help families pay for college by creating a single, super-sized tax credit to off-set rising tuition costs. It provides a $5,000 tax credit per student, per year, for up to half of college costs. Current tax credits max out at $2,000 and only reach families who make up to $114,000 a year. We want to raise that cap to families earning up to $200,000 a year and make it easier for students and parents to take advantage of this off-set.

In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Center, 79 percent of the middle class said it's harder to maintain their lifestyle now than it was five years ago. Republican policies have been holding the middle class back, but my colleagues and I are committed to changing that.

The middle class is America's economic engine. In order for our country to succeed, we need that engine running on all cylinders. This legislative agenda is putting us on a road toward middle class success, and we hope that it will inspire the rest of Congress to come along for the ride.