Sen. Mitch McConnell has been twisting in the wind over the past few days regarding his support for the Paul Ryan budget in 2011, pretending that he didn’t support voucherizing Medicare even though he repeatedly touted his vote and support for that exact plan to “empower Grandma in the private market.” While this back and forth between the campaigns of Grimes and McConnell — which included Team Mitch trying to tell the old man in Grimes’ ad that the town he lives in doesn’t exist — is grabbing all of the headlines, this story on McConnell’s visit to a business in the tiny Kentucky town of Buckner reported in the Oldham Era slipped under the radar. While taking questions from some of the locals, McConnell said some pretty amazing things.
Others brought up questions concerning McConnell’s upcoming election, such as his views on women’s issues in Kentucky. The senator said even though Alison Grimes has the female position on the ballot, it doesn’t mean she will win the gender vote.
“I could be wrong, but most of the barriers have been lowered,” said McConnell. “Women voters will look at the same issues as men are.”
McConnell also replied to a question about student debt, saying he didn’t think the federal government should forgive excess student loans. He explained the cost of higher education is “too high,” but an answer to the problem might be to provide competitive shopping around local alternatives. He suggested parents to be more cost conscious and send their kids to colleges closer to home.
“I went to a regular-old Kentucky college and some people say I did OK,” McConnell said.
I wanted to make sure that McConnell wasn’t quoted out of context here — where he seems to suggest that gender discrimination is a thing of the past and poor families should lower their standards when sending their kids to college — so I reached out to the Oldham Era reporter, who generously shared the audio so I could see his full statements.
Yes, McConnell did suggest that, and then some. Here’s what he had to say about the vanishing barriers for women:
“We’ve come a long way… in pay equity and uh… there are a ton of women CEO’s now running major companies…
“I could be wrong, but I think most of the barriers have been lowered. And I’m a little skeptical about arguments that – particularly people like my party who are hostile to women – what kind of nonsense is that? I think my opponent is going to make that argument to all of you this fall, that somehow I’m promoting policies that are harmful to women. I don’t think that kind of agenda exploitation for political purposes makes any sense. The last time I ran I got 50 percent of the women votes in the state. So I don’t grant the assumption that we need to sort of give preferential treatment to the majority of our population, which is in my view, leading and performing all across the… you know, maybe I’m missing something here. But I’ve, um, I think the efforts on the part of my opponent, in particular, to try to convince people that women should vote for her because she’s a woman are likely to fail, because I think women voters are going to be looking at the same kind of issues that men are.
First of all, I’m sure female voters will be glad to know that all of those barriers of sexism and discrimination are pretty much gone now, so they don’t need any “preferential treatment.” Even though a pay gap still exists between men and women and legal barriers exist towards combating wage discrimination, and McConnell voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act which address this. And those female voters can rest assured that they can no longer be charged more than men by insurance companies and denied coverage for terrible pre-existing conditions like pregnancy – even though McConnell wants to repeal the ACA so that such discrimination can return. And thankfully we have laws like the Family Medical Leave Act, even though McConnell voted against that, along with the Violence Against Women Act. And while coverage for contraception was ensured by the ACA, the Hobby Lobby decision now puts that in jeopardy — a decision that McConnell proudly celebrated. And at least women’s reproductive choices remain, even though much of McConnell’s party — who are in no way “hostile to women,” as McConnell says — wants to ban all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and ban forms of birth control altogether.
But yeah, besides that, thank goodness those barriers to women are gone. “Hostile to women?” The GOP is more like a “gift from God,” to quote the guy in Indiana that McConnell campaigned for in 2012.
Or maybe I’m missing something here… I could be wrong.
As for McConnell’s comments that seemed to suggest that low or moderate income families send their A-student to a community college instead of Harvard, in a fuller context it’s even worse. Here’s his response to a question about what he would do for graduates in Kentucky with a giant student loan debt:
“I don’t think that the federal government ought to be forgiving debt. I think it’s outrageous that it costs as much as it does, but I don’t think the federal government ought to be in the business of forgiving, in effect, obligations owed. That kind of mentality is how we ended up with a $16 trillion debt… So I rule out forgiving obligations that have been voluntarily incurred.”
“A lot of college debt, a significant amount, is related to graduate school. There are a lot of low cost options that I hope more and more kids will take advantage of. Public schools are cheaper than private schools. There is proprietary education, which works for some people. The cost of higher education is way too high. What I think it would benefit from is a lot of competition, which is one of the reasons that I’m a fan of proprietary education, because it’s providing private competition for traditional colleges and universities, most of which I attended and you probably attended. I think more competition and shopping around for college alternatives is a pretty good idea. This comes from a guy who’s financed three daughters at out-of-state schools. Could have been a lot better here and a lot cheaper here…
…So I think the best short term solution is for parents to be very cost conscious in shopping around for higher education alternatives. Not everybody needs to go to Yale.”
First of all, it’s interesting that McConnell is characterizing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan — allowing college graduates to refinance their loans by closing tax loopholes for billionaires — as some kind of amnesty. No, their high rates are an obligation that must be preserved, said the man who called the TARP bailout as the Senate at its finest hour.
And speaking of sub-prime bubbles bursting, here’s what the student loan crisis looks like across the country and in Kentucky:
The student loan bubble, which has been compared to the sub-prime mortgage bubble, has had economists and financial reporters predicting a bust as Standard & Poor’s continues to issue warnings and banks like JP Morgan withdraw from the market.
Rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduate degrees saw an 0.8 percent bump this month, bringing them up from the 3.86 percent fixed rate to 4.66 percent. Unsubsidized Stafford loan rates rose from 5.41 percent to 6.21 percent (most students opt for a combination of both to pay their tuition). Students seeking a master’s degree saw rates jump from a 6.21 percent fixed interest rate to 7.21 percent.
Meanwhile, student loans are currently netting the government about $51 billion in profit, according to a 2013 report from the Congressional Budget Office.
Warren’s plan, known as the Bank on Students Act, would have temporarily reduced interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans to 0.75 percent from the then-3.86 percent rate. People still carrying older student loan debt would have also been allowed to refinance their loans at the new, lower rate.
In Kentucky, the pressure is building: The White House has issued a report saying 588,000 Kentuckians have student loans worth more than $13.4 billion, while the Project on Student Debt says 62 percent of Kentucky graduates carry debt out of college, to the tune of about $22,000 each.
Yes, that looks bad, but McConnell has his solution: If you’re not a millionaire like him, who can send multiple kids to Ivy League schools without breaking a sweat, you simply send your honor student to your local community college, or… a “proprietary school.” What’s a proprietary school? That would be a for-profit college, the institutions that are actually at the heart of the student loan crisis, of course.
Here are the figures from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau:
96% of students at for-profit colleges take out loans. 13% of community college students, 48% of public college students, and 57% of nonprofit private college students do.
For-profit colleges enroll 13% of higher-education students but receive 25% of federal student aid.
The 15 publicly traded for-profit colleges receive more than 85% of their revenue from federal student loans and aid.
42% of students attending for-profit two-year colleges take out private student loans. 5% of students at community colleges and 18% at private not-for-profit two-year colleges do.
1 in 25 borrowers who graduate from college defaults on his or her student loans. But among graduates of two-year for-profit colleges, the rate is 1 in 5.
Students who attended for-profit schools account for 47% of all student loan defaults.
But by all means, we’ll solve this student debt crisis by keeping rates high and shipping kids off to for-profit colleges. Unless you’re as wealthy as Mitch McConnell or a female CEO that proves gender discrimination is a thing of the past, in which case you can still pay for your kid to go to Yale. That’s leadership, right there.