Newswire

With less than three weeks to go before loan repayment interest rates for 7.4 million American students are set to double, Maine Sen. Susan Collins says she's frustrated by the inability so far of Congress to find a compromise. While both Republicans and Democrats agree that the current 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans should be extended for another year, they disagree over how to pay for it. Tom Porter caught up with Sen. Collins at a recent event in Portland. He asked her how important it is to negotiate an extension to existing interest rate levels.

Susan Collins: "It's absolutely essential that we act to prevent the interest rate on student loans from doubling. It is difficult enough for students and their families nowadays to come up with the funds for a college education. And if there is a doubling of the rate on new student loans, it will impose a tremendous burden on students and their families. This is a classic case where virtually everyone agrees that the interest rate should not be allowed to double. The dispute is over how to pay for it. And it's extremely frustrating to me that the Congress has been unable to come together to come up with offsets that would acceptable to both sides."

Tom Porter: "Do you think in Congress things are moving towards a compromise? You've criticized Sen. Reid's proposal in the past for increasing taxes on small business, saying it would be damaging. He's now offering more of a combination plan."

Susan Collins: "I welcome any progress toward a compromise. This is an area where there's certainly fault on both sides. But I do not think the answer is to increase taxes on subchapter-S corporations, which is how many small businesses are organized in our state and throughout the country. They're the ones who are creating jobs, to the extent that there is any job creation going on. And we do not want to increase taxes on small businesses at this time. There are many other sources of funding: The Republicans have proposed a package, the Democrats have proposed a package. Each has rejected the other's offset of this additional spending. But surely we ought to be able to come together and to identify off-setting spending cuts to prevent the doubling of the rate."

Tom Porter: "The Republicans, too, seem to be moving a little bit towards compromise, dropping a proposal that would have involved abolishing a healthcare program to pay for it. They've moved away from that."

Susan Collins: "The Republicans made a good faith offer to the Democrats and to the White House, and actually used proposed budget savings that were included in the president's budget. So I am surprised that that seems to be have been rejected out of hand. My hope is that the president will convene the leaders from both sides at the White House, and hammer out a compromise so that we can get this done. That's the way to get it done: Bring everybody around the table, convene them for a meeting at the White House, and reach an agreement. 

Tom Porter: "You've talked about election-year politics holding this up. Do you think the president is guilty of doing that? He's been talking to students and trying to get the young vote. Do you think he's playing election-year politics with this issue?"

Susan Collins: "I think the president, regrettably, on this issue is more interested in having an unresolved issue than getting to a solution. But my hope is that as the date for the increase nears--and it's very soon, it's in July--that he will start being more constructive and that the leaders of my side of the aisle will also be constructive. This issue's too important to be playing politics with it.

Tom Porter: "Senator, thank you."

Susan Collins: "Thank you."