By Robert Mann
The venue of last Wednesday’s U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Bill Cassidy – the Journalism Building on LSU’s campus – was odd given how this campaign has largely ignored Louisiana’s young people. To be fair, that’s because Cassidy won’t engage Landrieu over how to address skyrocketing college tuition and student debt. On the struggle of poor and middle-income families to send their kids to college, Cassidy is silent.
It’s an issue about which Cassidy once professed some concern. When he called on me in 2006 as he prepared to run for the state Senate, Cassidy promised a campaign devoted largely to increasing state support to LSU.
It must have been a passing fancy because he’s never made funding LSU a priority. Like most legislators, Cassidy was mute as Gov. Bobby Jindal began slashing the state’s higher education budget. Now in the U.S. House, he has done little to help young people afford a college education.
While Cassidy has paid scant attention to young people (it is, after all, a midterm election, meaning the electorate will be older and whiter), Landrieu has prowled college campuses in search of votes. She has touted her “Passport to the Middle Class,” two bills designed to make it easier for young people to earn a college degree.
One bill would almost double the maximum Pell Grant award while a companion measure, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would allow “responsible” students to refinance their student loan debt.
“A college degree should help individuals build dreams, not debt,” Landrieu has said. “Each year, we see the cost of college tuition increase while in Louisiana, Gov. Jindal and his allies in the Legislature continue to slash higher education funding by $700 million and raise tuition and fees by 40 percent on students and their families. This is not sustainable.”
At Wednesday’s debate, Cassidy said nothing about helping make college more affordable. Landrieu, meanwhile, raised the issue and pitched her “Passport” plan.
Questioned about student loan debt at his first debate with Landrieu, Cassidy skirted the question. He babbled about teaching at LSU, grumbled about rising tuition and then muttered about “a lot of fraud” in the federal Pell Grant program.
GOP complaints about “voter fraud” are about suppressing minority voting, so perhaps this is a new Republican strategy of Pell Grant suppression. Regardless, wouldn’t it be nice if Republicans, like Cassidy, cared about fraud on Wall Street as much as the case of some coed who misspent part of her Pell Grant?
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