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College debt dominates Wyden talk

U.S. Senator addresses economic inequality and ways to even it out

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - At his talk last week, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said Americas middle class started with Henry Fords decision in 1914 to more than double wages to five dollars an hour in order to draw the best employees and give them enough money to buy his cars.U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s ideas for fixing what he calls the “Neiman Marcus/Dollar Tree economy” raised questions, compliments and skepticism last Thursday, Oct. 30, when he spoke in Marsh Hall at Pacific University.

Much of the discussion swirled around the problem of college debt.

Wyden said he supported income-based debt repayment, which started in 2007 and has expanded and improved several times, most recently last summer.

He also voted for a debt-refinancing bill sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which would have allowed students to renegotiate the interest rates on their debt. But the bill has not yet passed the Senate.

Neither has Wyden’s bi-partisan tax reform bill, which would provide a progressive, income-based tax credit for four years — either for tuition and fees while students are in college or for student-loan interest after they graduate.

Wyden also said he and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have co-sponsored a bipartisan “Right to Know Before you Go” bill that would make it easier for potential college students to find and compare college costs, graduation rates, student loan debt, employment prospects, potential future earnings and other relevant statistics from four-year institutions.

Anuhey Wall, a Pacific student, suggested colleges with impressive statistics might then raise their tuition rates, making it less likely that students without a lot of money could afford to go there.

Wyden acknowledged that he’d seen cases where the government would raise the amount for a Pell grant “and tuition would go up by the same amount a week later.” But he still feels the comparative statistics would spark market forces that would improve schools’ performance and lower their costs.

Just as important, he said, some potential students might look at the statistics and decide it was not economically feasible to attend college at that point in their lives.

For those entering the job market, Wyden expressed concern about the increase in “independent contractor” employees whose jobs don’t include benefits.

He also praised healthy trade policies, using the 200 new jobs being added at SolarWorld in Hillsboro as an example of what can happen if countries such as China are stopped from “cheating” on the goods they export to the U.S.

When asked how likely it is that his ideas and bills will ever become law in the current, gridlocked Congress, Wyden said, “I think everyone knows this Congress is having trouble ordering a Coca-Cola.”


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