House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.

Photos

NEWSROOM

Floor Statement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2007

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

Statement of Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) Senior Republican Member, Education and Labor Committee Consideration of the Conference Report on H.R. 2669, the “College Cost Reduction and Access Act”

Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume and I rise in opposition to this conference report, which is the product of both a flawed policy and a flawed process.

The conference report was made available to Republicans for the first time less than 24 hours before it reached the Rules Committee.  Unfortunately, that was just the latest in a series of disappointments we’ve endured throughout this process.  But perhaps my greatest disappointment is the sinking reality that this conference agreement could have done more to help low-income students gain access to college.  Instead, I fear we have squandered a tremendous opportunity.

There is one element of this conference report worthy of praise, so I’d like to begin there.  This conference agreement will invest approximately $11 billion in Pell Grants, which I believe are the single most effective tool to open the doors of higher education to low-income students.

Representative Ric Keller, the senior Republican member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, deserves great credit for the Pell Grant increases that have been provided over the last several years.  Mr. Keller is a champion for the Pell Grant program, having founded the Congressional Pell Grant Caucus to advocate for this critical program.

The recipient of a Pell Grant himself, Mr. Keller has shined a spotlight on the importance of targeting the federal investment in higher education to serve low-income students.

If I had been in the room when this agreement was reached, I would have preferred to invest even more in Pell Grants.  In fact, I advocated a straightforward approach to reform that would have saved billions by making the student loan program more efficient and plowed those resources directly into Pell Grants.  It’s an approach that I continue to believe would have received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Instead, Democrats opted to:

  • Jeopardize the stability of the Federal Family Education Loan Program by imposing excessive cuts;

  • Create an unnecessary, complex, and cumbersome auction scheme that will deny parents a choice of loan providers;

  • Impose an impossible timeline for implementation that sets students up for confusion and program participants up for failure; and

  • Create massive new entitlement programs.

I harbor serious concerns about this conference report when it is simply taken at face value.  Unfortunately, I fear that when we consider the long-term ramifications, these concerns grow much more serious.

First, the conference report creates new entitlement programs but only provides short-term funding.  Every single person in this room knows that once created, an entitlement will not die.  That means in five years, we’ll be forced to make additional cuts to fund these new entitlements.

Second, the conference report includes the misguided plan to temporarily reduce interest rates.  What once was a campaign promise has become a trap that will ensnare either students or taxpayers, and possibly both.  The plan would temporarily phase down interest rates over the next four years.  And just as soon as the rate gets down to half the level it is today – as Democrats promised – it will jump back to its current level.  The choice, then, becomes whether we break the promise to students and allow rates to rise, or break the promise to taxpayers that this legislation is paid for, and stick them with an additional $20 - $30 billion.

The third consequence of this proposal, which I believe the majority has not considered, is the undue burden that will be caused by its hasty implementation.  The conference report presumes that complex technological and service changes will be implemented in a matter of weeks.  It seems almost inevitable that this unrealistic timeline will create chaos within these programs for students, program participants, and the Department of Education.

And finally, let me be perfectly clear: I have absolutely no confidence in the Department of Education’s ability to implement the changes outlined in this conference report, particularly with the timelines it sets.  It gives me no pleasure to point out this obvious fact, particularly in a Republican Administration, but it’s true.  And sadly, we will all be watching this failure play out in the coming months and years.

There is another issue that bears mentioning, and it’s what this conference report unfortunately does not do.  Despite its lofty name, this legislation does nothing at all to reduce the cost of college.  It didn’t have to be this way.  In fact, the bill that passed the House contained provisions that I have championed to make college cost increases more transparent to students and parents.  These common sense reforms were stripped away, leaving consumers with nothing.

The majority will tell you these college cost provisions were removed because they did not meet the stringent rules applied to a budget reconciliation package.  That may well be true.  If so, I consider it further proof that by abusing the reconciliation process, we missed key opportunities to help students.

While this conference agreement is unmistakably a product of the Democratic Congress, I cannot help but express my disappointment in the Administration for their role in this process.  The FY 2008 budget request proposed excessive cuts to the student loan programs – cuts that I believe may ultimately destabilize the largest source of federal financial assistance.

This conference agreement makes a significant investment in the Pell Grant program.  For that, I am appreciative.  I only wish it had done more.  I wish that we could have seized upon the opportunity, worked together in a bipartisan fashion, and produced a conference report that lived up to its name.

Mr. Speaker, I am deeply disappointed in the conference report we are considering and the process that was used to get here, and so I must oppose final passage.  With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

#####