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Cory B.
Democrat NJ

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  • Making Continuing Appropriations During a Government Shutdown

    by Senator Cory A. Booker

    Posted on 2014-06-11

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    BOOKER. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.



    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    College Affordability Mr. BOOKER. Madam President, I rise today to express my disappointment that earlier today this Chamber could not even proceed to the consideration of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. This would have allowed those with outstanding student loan debt to refinance at the lower interest rates currently offered to new borrowers. This is deeply disappointing to me, and it should be to the American public--that we could not even get on to the bill to debate it.

    This is why it is particularly disappointing: Our Nation's young people and their families are burdened with extraordinary debt--$1.2 trillion of student loan debt. This exceeds the aggregate--the total-- auto loan, credit card, and home equity debt balances in America, making student loans the second largest debt of U.S. households, following mortgages.

    Today, the average student graduates from college with around $29,000 in loans. In New Jersey, that is up from an average of $27,600 in 2011 and $23,792 in 2010. More than 16 percent of my constituents now have student debt. That is over 1 million New Jerseyans who are weighed down by a significant financial obligation that limits the amount of money they are able to put back into the economy--in buying homes and in investing in their futures, in pursuing their American dream.

    Reduced purchasing power due to high student loan debts not only holds back a family's day-to-day spending but it keeps them from making those large investments.

    I believe it is irresponsible and shortsighted for us to think that we can saddle young people--the true engines of our economy--with this burden and maintain our position as the world's most powerful economy.

    Historically, the United States has done things differently. We were the leader in expanding college opportunity. From the GI bill following World War II to Pell grants in 1980, we have taken bold steps to ensure that Americans have access to college regardless of their ability to pay their way entirely on their own. We created these programs because we understood that an educated workforce is essential to our Nations's economic competitiveness. The most valuable natural resource any nation on the planet has is the genius and mental acuity of its people. Without highly skilled workers, without trained minds, without that opportunity that comes with higher education, America simply will not be able to compete as well in the global economy.

    The cost of college in America puts our young people at a disadvantage compared to their peers. We are not leading; we are lagging. These obstacles to a college education deny a level playing field. We are disadvantaging our young people in their fight to compete and lead against other nations that are doing so much more.

    Take this important data point: More than 51 percent of the median income is the cost of college in the United States, while the cost of college in Germany is just 4.3 percent of that country's income. In Canada it is about 5 percent. In England it is about 6 percent. Compare that to us--51 percent of median income in the United States. It is less than 7 percent in Canada, in England, in Germany--our competitors.

    We should be doing everything in our power to encourage forthcoming generations to pursue higher education so that we do not slide further in global rankings and compromise our ability to compete. Where we used to lead the globe in percentage of population with a college education, now we lag. We cannot be the leading economy if we are the lagging nation in education.

    I commend my colleagues, including Senators Harkin, Reed, Warren, and Gillibrand, who have been so active even before I came to this body in calling attention to this issue. I urge my colleagues to step up and be a part of preserving this grand American tradition of college access, which is so essential to the other grand tradition in our Nation of social mobility, that no matter where you are born, no matter what your economic status, no matter what your color or your creed, this is the Nation where, if you have grit and toughness, discipline and hard work, you can make it. We are a country that will remove those obstacles and allow genius to be made manifest.

    I hope we can begin to get bills like this that are so common sense-- this idea that we can refinance student debt--to the point where we can discuss the bills on the floor and they can escape the trap of the filibuster.

    Truck Safety Before yielding the floor, I wish to take this moment to express my deepest condolences to the family of victims involved in a tragic tractor trailer accident Saturday night on the New Jersey Turnpike. My thoughts and prayers go out to the several individuals who were injured in the crash. I obviously wish them a full recovery.

    We owe many thanks to the emergency personnel who responded to this weekend's accident and countless others who worked tirelessly along our highways to keep them safe. During times like these, though, we must ask ourselves whether this tragedy and so many others in New Jersey and across our Nation along our highways could have been prevented with common sense. It is too early to tell, but I am grateful to the National Transportation Safety Board for investigating [[Page S3578]] this particular accident thoroughly. I eagerly await their findings, but in the meantime, it is worth reviewing what we do know.

    Larger and heavier trucks cause greater damage when collisions occur. It is just physics. That is why there are rules governing truck size and weight limitations on our highways. I have concerns about any attempts to increase truck size and weight limits. I hope that sound data and science will inform our decisions, the decisions this body must make on that issue.

    Another major highway problem--one that I know is affecting the lives of families from coast to coast--is the problem with driver fatigue. Studies show that fatigue contributes to 30 to 40 percent of all major accidents--all major truck accidents. Thirty to forty percent of truck accidents are contributed to by fatigue. When drivers do not get enough rest, when they are more tired, they are much more likely to get into an accident. That is why there are limitations in place on the number of hours truckdrivers may work in any given week. I am concerned about any efforts to weaken those rules, which would allow people to push the limit of human exhaustion even further and would therefore create an environment where more accidents are possible.

    The bottom line is that truck accidents and the deaths and injuries caused by them are actually increasing in America. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to take a serious look at what we can do to improve the safety of our highways.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Hirono). The Senator from Oregon.

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