Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Introducing the FAST Act

Posted on January 7, 2015

The Senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet, and I have been working for one year to make it easier for the 20 million American families who fill out the federal application form each year in order to receive grants and loans for college.

The piece of demonstrative evidence that Senator Bennet and I have been carrying around in Tennessee and Colorado is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.  This is the form that 20 million Americans fill out.  It is familiar to many families as it has 108 questions, and it is important to them because about half of the American families who have students in college have a Federal grant or loan to help pay for college. 

I thank Senator Bennet, and I would like to send to the desk the FAST Act that Senator Bennet and I are introducing, with the cosponsorship of Senator Booker, Senator Burr, Senator King, and Senator Isakson. 

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The senator from New Jersey is known in his state and across the country as a pioneer in education, putting children first. 

Having his support and advice on this bill will be a great advantage in helping it go from the Senate floor through the House to the president's desk and into law.

In 2013, the Congress and President Obama made significant steps forward in improving the student loan program – a $100 billion per year Federal program to help students go to college. That law created a market?based, market?pricing system, and it had the effect in that year of reducing the rate for undergraduates, cutting it about in half. 

     The two senators who led that were the senator from North Carolina, Mr. Burr, and the Senator from Maine, Mr. King. Senator Burr and Senator King have continued to work on student loans, making it easier for students to go to college, easier for them to pay their loans, and easier for them to pay them back. 

We are proud to have them as cosponsors, but they have their own legislation on student loan repayments, which I am pleased to cosponsor and which will be a top priority in the Senate HELP Committee as soon as we finish fixing No Child Left Behind. 

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I thank the Senator from North Carolina.  No one was more instrumental in the work in 2013 that reformed student loans to reduce the interest rate for undergraduates by nearly half that year. 

In his State of North Carolina there are many of the best universities and 2?year colleges in the country, and I know education has been and is foremost for him. 

I look forward to working with him, the members of our committee and every senator on the floor, as we go through the process with a full and honest debate on important issues using an open amendment process.  Then I hope we are able to work with President Obama again this year in the same way we were in 2013 to achieve a result. 

A forceful advocate for that result in 2013 was the senator of Maine who has the advantage of having been a governor, Senator King, and we will let him have the final say in this colloquy. 

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I want to thank the senators from Maine and New Jersey for their leadership and the senator from North Carolina.  I can assure them the King?Burr bill, with the support of senator Rubio and Senator Warner, will be combined with our bill and be front and center on the agenda of the HELP Committee as early as we can this year. As far as I am concerned, it is the next priority after we fix No Child Left Behind. I am hopeful we can bring it to the floor by the spring, give the full Senate a chance to consider it, combine it with action of the House and work with the president, just as we did in 2013.    

I am going to turn to Senator Bennet for just a minute to let him have a concluding word, but I wanted to say this. As I mentioned, President Obama is going to Tennessee on Friday. He is going to celebrate an initiative Tennessee has taken by itself to say to all high school graduates,  two years of community college education is tuition free.  Of course, that is based upon the Pell grant. The state just makes up the difference, which isn't that much. 

I am going to have an opportunity to say to the president:  Mr. President, the one thing the federal government can do to make it easier for more Tennesseans to take advantage of Tennessee Promise is to get rid of the FAFSA.  Because the president of Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis says 1,500 students a semester are not enrolling in community college, who ought to be going, just because they and their families are intimidated by this form or can't fill it out. 

There is no excuse for that, and we are going to fix that.  Maybe the solution is three questions, maybe it is four questions, but surely it is not 108 questions, and 70 or 80 pages of instructions, wasting the time of administrators, guidance counselors, parents, accountants, students, and discouraging Americans from taking advantage of education.

                I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the record a one?page summary of the FAST Act. 

 

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