Contrasting Views of Governmentby Representative Bradley Byrne
Posted on 2015-01-21
BYRNE. I thank the gentlemen from Florida and Illinois. Those
were eloquent words spoken from the heart, because I know both of these
gentleman mean everything they just said.
Last night was an interesting moment for me. One of the President's big plays is this proposal regarding community colleges.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am the first person in my family to go to college. Both of my parents grew up during the Depression. There wasn't any money for college, but I was privileged to go to college. During the time that I went, my parents were not doing well financially. Like very many other people, I was a financial aid student.
We didn't have Pell grants back then. You got Federal student loans and maybe a Federal student work-study job. Lots and lots of people in my generation did that. I don't ever complain about that because that is the best money I ever borrowed and the best work I ever did because it gave me the opportunity to do what I have done in life. But it also taught me how important it is to give people an opportunity for a real education so that they can move up in their lives.
This May, the last of my four children will finish college. We have had somebody in college in my family since 2003. I have been writing those tuition checks, fees, et cetera. So I look at this also from the point of view of someone who has had to be there writing those checks, sending their young people to college. But I am also the former chancellor of post-secondary education for the State of Alabama. It was my job to be the CEO of Alabama's 2-year college system, the community colleges for the State of Alabama. And so I bring a certain level of experience and expertise to this issue that may be a little different from others in this body.
When the President first proposed this, his office just gave us a heads up. It didn't check and say, Do you think this is a good idea? Given your background, do you think this is something we can do? He said, This is what we're going to do.
Our first question we asked was, How much will it cost? The initial answer we got from the White House was, We don't know how much it's going to cost. Now that should cause us all to ask a question about how serious this proposal is when, in the very first instance that they decide that they are going to propose it, they can't even tell us how much it costs. Even after they decided how much they think it is going to cost--$60 billion--they couldn't tell us how they were going to pay for it.
So it led me to ask this question: Is this a serious idea? Because, you see, over a third of our community college students in America are already on Federal Pell grants, which cover all--or virtually all--of their tuition and fee costs when they go to community college. And for the people that don't have the eligibility to get Pell grants, there are a combination of other things that they can get.
My experience as somebody who ran a community college system was that covering tuition and fees was usually not the real problem most community college students face. Most of them face a more difficult problem, and that is they are not adequately academically prepared or they have other problems in their lives, whether it is from their homes or jobs or whatever. It is hard for them to stay in college and stay up with the work that they have got to do. And so they need a lot of extra help. And the President doesn't talk about that.
Now here is the worst thing about this proposal. We heard a lot last night from the President of the United States that he was all about the middle class. Let me tell you one of the taxes that he is going to raise that is going to pay for these proposals. He is going to tax 529 plans.
For people that don't know what those are, 529 plans are savings accounts, essentially, that moms and [[Page H469]] dads and grandmoms and granddads put money in over time and they use that money that they saved over time to put their young people through college. And the good thing about that is while they pay taxes on the money that they make before they put it into the plans, if, when they take the money out of those plans, there has been some appreciation--it has gone from being this much money to that much money--they don't have to pay taxes on it.
It is an incentive for them. It is a way for middle class people to save for college for their young people. It is the only way middle class people in this country have a real savings plan for the young people. And this President, who stood up right behind me last night and talked about being for the middle class, wants to tax those middle class savings plans and take them away from people. Twelve million people use those plans in this country, 12 million people like my parents, like my wife and me, and like many, many other people in America. They shouldn't have their plans taxed.
So I say to my colleagues from Florida and Illinois, if you look at just that one part of what he proposed, it is hard to say he was serious. Because if he really cares about higher education in America, he would think about the other needs of these community college students. But most importantly, he would think about those 12 million parents that are saving for their young people, middle class people whom he is trying to take money away from with this proposed tax.
I think that sort of gives you a flavor of my appreciation of that one part of what he said last night.