In a relatively rare unscripted question-and-answer session with the public last week, President Bush was caught unawares by a query about federal student loans.
At Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., on Jan. 23, college sophomore Tiffany Cooper asked: “Recently $12.7 billion was cut from education. I was just wondering how is that supposed to help our futures?”
Prompted by an aide that the $12.7 billion referred to the federal student-loan program, Mr. Bush answered: “Actually I think what we did was reform the student-loan program, we’re not cutting money out of it. In other words people aren’t going to be cut off the program, we’re just making sure it works better.”
The president and the student were referring to a budget-reconciliation bill passed narrowly on Dec. 21 by the Senate that aims to save $12.7 billion from the student-loan program over five years by setting interest rates for the loans at 6.8 percent, “even if commercial rates are lower.” The bill is awaiting action in the House.
Student organizations say the savings should be used to reduce the cost of student loans rather than to reduce the federal deficit.
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement last week that said: “In their budget, President Bush and Congressional Republicans have once again put the special interests ahead of our nation’s future by raiding student aid with a $12.7 billion cut. Increasing the cost of student loans will put higher education even further out of reach or heap mountains of debt onto too many of our nation’s students.”