LOUISVILLE, Ky. ― Brandon Davis has an undergraduate degree, a law degree and more than $200,000 in student loans ― which is why he is living with his future in-laws.
“We’re probably going to be living like college students for at least the first five or so years, minimum, just so I can make my minimum monthly payment,”A he said.
Davis was one of hundreds of students who came out Sunday morning to hear Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State who is locked in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country this year as she tries to unseat 30-year incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Tuition and fees at Kentucky’s public colleges and universities have increased 110 percent over the last decade. With the exception of Kentucky State University and the University of Kentucky, more than half of all Kentucky public college graduates have debt, according to a state government report. The average Kentucky college graduate leaves school more than $22,000 in debt, the ninth lowest in the country, according to The Project on Student Debt.
Warren has been canvassing the country following a failed vote in the U.S. Senate that would have allowed some people to refinance their student loan debt to take advantage of lower interest rates. But Republicans, led by McConnell, blocked the bill because it would have raised taxes on wealthy Americans to pay for it.
“When you’ve got a choice between billionaires and students, Mitch McConnell says it is more important to protect the billionaires,” Warren told hundreds of students and other supporters at a Sunday morning rally on the University of Louisville’s campus. “And that’s what this race is all about. It’s about a man who stood up and filibustered the student loan bill.”
McConnell’s campaign has focused on how Grimes promotes the Democratic Party’s national agenda, including her ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama, who is as unpopular as ever in Kentucky. But Grimes has focused on pocketbook issues, including increasing the minimum wage and narrowing the salary gap between men and women. Sunday’s rally on student loans was Grimes’ most direct attack on that front since she won the Democratic primary on May 20. She said she believes education is not a luxury.
“I believe it is a necessity that should be available to all Kentuckians,” Grimes told the crowd. “It is and should be the passport out of poverty not into poverty.”
McConnell has said Warren’s bill was about politics and never about students. He voted for a 2013 bipartisan compromise on lowering student loan interest rates, a compromise President Obama supported. Warren opposed that bill because she said it would lead to higher interest rates for students in the long run.
Grimes has endorsed a plan by Warren that would temporarily lower the interest rate on a federal Stafford loan to 0.75 percent from 3.4 percent. And it would allow people with older student debt to refinance their loans to take advantage of lower interest rates. To pay for that, the plan would impose the so-called “Buffet Rule,” which would set minimum tax rates for people making more than $1 million a year.
Aaron Duvall, president of the University of Louisville College Republicans, told reporters after the rally that Grimes and Warren’s proposal is an example of misplaced priorities.
“Sen. Warren’s bill would only have helped 10 percent of student borrowers and would have done so by raising taxes on Kentucky’s job creators,” Duvall said.
McConnell’s campaign has not countered Grimes on college tuition, instead focusing on the person Grimes has chosen to promote the plan. Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, supports the federal government’s efforts to restrict carbon dioxide emissions, restrictions many Kentuckians oppose because of its impact on the state’s struggling coal industry.
“She’s not even hiding her allegiances anymore,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said in a news release. “If she’s elected her only problem with Barack Obama would be that occasionally he’s not liberal enough for her taste.”