ThinkProgress filed this report from a town hall in Muskego, Wisconsin.
The House Republican majority, since it came into power, has repeatedly set its sights on Pell Grants, the federal grants that help low- and middle-income students pay a portion of their higher education tuition. Republicans have not only proposed lowering the maximum Pell amount from $5,500 (which is the level to which the Obama administration raised it) but also limiting eligibility, knocking one million students from the Pell program entirely.
During a town hall today, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked by Matthew Lowe, a student, why the GOP wants to cut Pell Grants. Ryan responded by saying that the program is “unsustainable,” before telling Lowe that he should be working three jobs and taking out student loans to pay for college, instead of using Pell Grants:
LOWE: I come from a very middle-class family and under President Obama, I get $5,500 per year to pay for school, which doesn’t come close to covering all of the funding, but it helps ease the burden. Under your plan, you cut it by 15 percent. I was just curious why you would cut a grant that goes directly to the middle- and lower-class people that need it the most.
RYAN: ‘Cause Pell Grants have become unsustainable. It’s all borrowed money…Look, I worked three jobs to pay off my student loans after college. I didn’t get grants, I got loans, and we need to have a system of viable student loans to be able to do this.
The second concern I have is, in the health care bill — people don’t know this — for budgetary gimmickry reasons, the administration and Congress at the time, took over the student loan industry. So they had the federal government, the Department of Education, basically confiscate the private student loan industry.
ThinkProgress spoke to Lowe afterward, who said, “If [the Pell grant program] was cut, I’d have to accept unsubsidized loans from banks. I don’t get it…We continue to not tax the people who are best off…He taxes small little things that affect the poor and middle class the most.”
Ryan justified the GOP’s desire to cut the highly-necessary Pell Grant program by claiming that it costs too much; but the GOP’s budget provides huge tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations which dwarf the cost of preserving the grants. He also claimed that Pell Grants drive tuition inflation, which is a claim he has made before, while pointing to studies that didn’t actually say what he believed they said.
Finally, Ryan goes from claiming that Pell Grants are unaffordable to saying that he wants to repeal student loan reform (which was in no way passed for a “budgetary gimmicky reason”) that saves taxpayers billions of dollars each year by cutting unnecessary subsidies to banks that originated federal student loans. Contrary to Ryan’s assertion, there is still a private student loan industry; loan reform merely cut the banks out of the federal student loan program.
At a time when student loan debt is hitting new heights and joblessness is above nine percent, Ryan’s response to a student genuinely concerned about financing his higher education is quite telling. To Ryan, students should have to live the real American dream of working three jobs in order to pay back a mountain of cash to a bank.