Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes unveiled a plan Friday that she says will help make college more affordable and ease student loan debt for over a quarter-million Kentucky students.
The plan continues Grimes’ push to strike an economic populist chord with voters. It also comes ahead of a weekend rally in Louisville featuring U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has slammed Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell for blocking similar legislation.
Like Warren’s proposal, the Grimes plan calls for giving students the same loan rates as the federal government gives Wall Street banks.
The plan would allow new student borrowers to obtain a subsidized Stafford loan at 0.75 percent for up to one year, as opposed to the current 3.4 percent rate.
Grimes said the lower rate is the same used by big banks under the Federal Reserve’s “discount window,” and the policy should be uniform for U.S. students.
“In the Senate, I will work across party lines to champion similar legislation to fight for Kentucky students and graduates,” Grimes said in a news release.
“Mitch McConnell failed to lead on this legislation. He stands with the big banks, but not with Kentucky students and families.”
In Kentucky, almost 360,000 students carry a student loan debt that one Republican state lawmaker described as having a “crippling effect” on the state. Reports shows Kentucky students on average carry about $20,000 in debt.
McConnell led a GOP-backed filibuster against the Warren bill because it was paid for using the so-called “Buffet Rule,” which raises taxes on Americans earn over $1 million annually. The GOP leader called the bill a political stunt that was meant to be a campaign talking point in the midterm election.
Since then Warren has been on a national tour bashing McConnell over the procedural blockade. The Massachusetts Democrat will attend a rally Sunday with Grimes at the University of Louisville’s Red Barn.
Other parts of the Grimes plan include fully funding Pell Grants, simplifying income-based repayments, and allowing students to refinance their college loans.
During an education roundtable in Danville this week, Grimes said McConnell’s motivation for blocking these ideas is purely political and at the expense of students.
“Mitch McConnell has blocked action on a proposal to allow borrowers with older student loans to refinance at the rates established in 2013 for new, taxpayer-backed student loans. He previously opposed efforts to cut student loan interest rates in half,” Grimes said, adding that she “strongly” supported the student loan refinancing legislation.
National Republicans have pounced on Grimes more for embracing a”bitter partisan” such as Warren. The GOP and McConnell’s campaign argue Grimes’ education pitch is a cynical attempt to change the subject after taking hits over coal regulations the past few weeks.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes’ support from liberals like Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Elizabeth Warren illustrates that she can’t be counted on to defend Kentucky from the very liberals declaring a war on coal,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Brook Hougesen.
“Kentuckians know that Grimes’ mere presence in the Senate allows Harry ‘coal makes us sick’ Reid and Barack Obama to continue to wage a war on jobs and families in their state.”
The Grimes campaign has ignored most of the GOP attacks, which are more personality than policy focused.
Grimes has touted the Warren visit to donors while telling supporters in an e-mail message earlier this month that she doesn’t agree with Warren on every subject.