Brown and Warren Disagree on Student Loan Interest Rates

Interest rates on student loans have become a point of contention between U.S. Senator Scott Brown and Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.

Brown has joined the group of Republican senators blocking a Democratic effort to pass legislation which would prevent interest rates on student loans from rising.

This move has sparked criticism from Warren, who strongly supports the bill. In a statement issued by her campaign, Warren called for students to rally against Scott’s vote on this legislation.

"Young people here in Massachusetts and across the country who are working hard and building a future—and our nation’s future—by investing in their education, should not suddenly face higher interest rates on their student loans," Warren said in a statement.

If Congress does not take action, 7.4 million college students nationwide may see interest rates on their federally subsidized Stafford loans double.

The interest rate for these loans currently sits at 3.4 percent, regulated by a provision passed by Congress in 2007. This rate, however, will spike to 6.8 percent on July 1, if Congress does not take measures to extend the current lower rate.

Stafford loans, typically taken out by middle class students, allow students to pay no interest while in colleges and then below market rates afterwards.

Institute of Politics Director C. M. "Trey" Grayson ’94 said that this debate over student loans has become important in the Massachusetts Senate race as well as in the presidential election because of its potential influence on college-age voters.

Grayson said that by joining this effort to filibuster the student loan legislation, Brown is attempting to maintain his image as a fiscally responsible legislator.

However, Grayson said that it is difficult for Brown to tout being on the defensive by blocking the bill.

"It puts him in a tough spot," Grayson said.

On Monday, Brown introduced his own legislation that would also keep interest rates on student loans low.

"It’s time to stop playing politics and get to work on a real bipartisan compromise to preserve current student loan rates. The job market is dismal and the cost of getting a college education is out of control," said Brown in a statement.

Though this issue may blow over quickly, the debate shows that Democrats, mindful of keeping their control of the Senate and retaking the House in this fall’s elections, are trying to force Republicans to vote against popular legislation in hopes of winning voters’ favor, Grayson said.

"They’re going to probably try to force [Brown] and some of the other vulnerable Republicans to do party line votes," Grayson said.

The Warren campaign’s statement pointed to a new study released on Monday by ProgressMass which shatters the "Brown bipartisanship myth" by showing that Brown votes "overwhelmingly" with Republicans.

Grayson said this debate over student loans might help Warren divert attention from Republicans’ claims [LINK] that her claims to Native American heritage are unsubstantiated and that she therefore may have committed academic fraud when applying for a position at Harvard Law School by deceiving the University into believing that she is Native American.

—Staff Writer Elizabeth S. Auritt can be reached at eauritt@college.harvard.edu.

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