Mark Kennedy wrong for students

Kennedy voted to cut nearly $13 billion from financial aid loan programs.

Congress ha s advanced a Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act, an innocuous-sounding term with damaging results.Congressional Republicans voted for more than $40 billion in cuts to federal programs like student loans, Medicaid and food stamps. A corresponding earmark of $50 to $70 billion in new tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, however, was passed.

United States Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., is one of the Republicans who put tax cuts for wealthy Americans ahead of financial aid for students. Kennedy is serving his third term in Congress, representing Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District. He will be the Republican nominee for the Senate this fall, as the GOP has played “kingmaker,” anointing the chosen one to run for the Senate, something Kennedy all but declared after narrowly winning re-election in 2004. But the question is whether Kennedy is right to represent all of Minnesota.

Minnesota students should expect better from a senator. Better representation than cuts to financial aid to protect higher tax brackets. Better leadership than kowtowing to the extreme right wing, more dedicated to dividing the electorate than working in its best interest.

According to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the House and Senate budget conferences crafted a bill with a net cut of $12.7 billion to the student-loan programs. A full 70 percent of the bill’s savings come from making loans more expensive: $15 billion out of the $21 billion in total cuts. The parent loan interest rate increases from 7.9 percent to 8.5 percent.

The Student Aid Alliance reports that loans make up 30 percent of the bill’s contribution to deficit reduction, but loans represent less than half of 1 percent of annual federal spending. Loans accounted for just 20 percent of federal assistance in 1976, but nearly 75 percent in 2003. They also reported that federal grant, loan and work-study programs account for two-thirds of all available student aid ” $75.2 billion out of a total $115.7 billion in academic year 2003-2004. Over that same period, almost 10 million students received aid, averaging about $6,000.

According to the SAA, undergraduate enrollment will increase 14 percent in the next decade. One in five will be from families with incomes below the poverty level.

So why does the Republican Party make sure the doors of opportunity remain closed for more students? Who does Kennedy think he’s going to represent as a senator? It certainly won’t be the 370,000 students in the Minnesota State College and University systems.

On his Web site, Kennedy proudly displays a photo of himself with President George W. Bush. Maybe that’s because, like Bush, Kennedy doesn’t understand the real problems facing America. Like Bush, he thinks partisan politics are more important than solving problems. Like Bush, he would rather show he’s “fiscally sound” then fiscally sane.

If Kennedy wants to be Bush’s puppet, that’s fine, but he’d be doing us all a favor if he did so working at Fox News instead of the Senate.

The truth is, statistics show the importance of higher education for the American economy. The SAA reports that every year of education is estimated to increase real economic output from 5 percent to as much as 20 percent.

Yet his Web site says: “Congressman Kennedy seeks to keep America the best place to grow jobs in the world.” I’m sure he does, but logic suggests increasing access to education would be effective, not the opposite.

During his time in the House, Mark Kennedy has proved he is not the right choice for Minnesota. He is not a friend of college students, and they are clearly not a matter of his concern.

Vote Mark Kennedy for U.S. Senate? Minnesota students can’t afford to make that mistake.

Noah Seligman is secretary for the U-DFL. Please send comments to [email protected]