Levin Floor Statement on GOP Higher Education Tax Benefits Bill

Jul 24, 2014 Issues: Education

Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today made the following floor statement in opposition to H.R. 3393, the GOP Higher Education Tax Benefits Bill:

What Republicans are trying to do here is to soften their image. But they can’t run away from the hard reality that at every turn over the last several years they have sought to pass laws making life more difficult for lower- and middle-income families.

On the Republican chopping block:

  • Unemployment insurance blocked for 3 million Americans
  • Food assistance for low-income Americans would be cut by nearly 20 percent in the Ryan-Republican budget
  • A minimum wage increase hasn’t occurred in 5 years, yet Republicans refuse to provide an increase
  • Medical assistance for low-income Americans would be slashed by the Ryan-Republican budget, with funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program cut to the tune of 26 percent within 10 years.
  • Social Services Block Grants, which provide flexible funds for states to help vulnerable populations, would be eliminated under the Ryan-Republican budget
  • Pell Grants would be reduced by 400,000 under the Ryan Republican budget
  • Job training funding was targeted for deep cuts in 2011 spending bill House Republicans passed
  • Housing assistance would end for 800,000 low-income families in the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill House Republicans passed

Hard-hearted actions contradict the soft rhetoric of today. We should be very skeptical when zebras try to change their stripes.

Today’s legislation is part of a set of 14 tax provisions that Ways and Means Republicans have marked up permanent and without offsets – at a cost of $825 billion to taxpayers.

By the end of this week, the total that House Republicans will have passed on the floor is more than $700 billion – not a dime offset.

It’s kind of easy to come here and say that this is what we want to do – when we don’t pay a dime to do it.

Let it be clear in terms of this call for bipartisanship – all of the Democrats on Ways and Means voted against this bill, and the Statement of Administration Policy says it opposes it.

Let me give some details.

In simplifying education provisions within the tax code, this bill leaves behind numerous undergraduate students, graduate students and lifetime learners.

It replaces the Hope Scholarship Credit, it repeals both the Lifetime Learning Credit and the now expired deduction for qualified tuition expenses. And it limits the overall deduction for the first four years of schooling.

It harms students across the board:

Undergraduates who take longer than four years to complete their degrees would be impacted – a change that loses sight of the fact that the median length of time it takes undergrads to get their degrees is more than four years.

Adult learners would face higher costs. Three in four students are adult learners, who tend to take much longer to complete their degrees because they work full-time, have dependents, serve in the military, or have some combination of the foregoing, and take longer to complete their degree.

Low-income and middle-income graduate students would lose out. In 2013, the Lifetime Learning Credit, which this bill eliminates, served nearly two million students with incomes at or below $75,000, including 1 million with an income of $40,000 or less.

Two years ago, a quarter of all graduate students earned less than $11,000. During the same year, 31 percent of the 1.3 million master’s degree students received no financial aid.

In 2011, nearly 2 million tax returns claimed the qualified tuition deduction, which expired at the end of this year and this bill does not extend.

We have a letter from the American Council on Education, and here’s what they say:

“However, as we discussed in our attached letter of April 4, 2014 to Ways and Means Committee members, there are a number of other changes in the legislation which cause us great concern.

“Even as reported, the bill would negatively impact many low- and middle-income students and families who benefit under current law. It also would harm graduate students and lifetime learners who utilize the tuition deduction or the LLC.

“Because we continue to have serious concerns about the Student and Family Tax Simplification Act, we cannot support the bill as currently written, even in the form as reported.”

This is sent on behalf of the following:
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Council on Education
Association of American Universities
Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
College and University Professional Association for Human Resources
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
Council of Graduate Schools
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

That letter so much speaks to this issue.