With debt ceiling deadline approaching, student leaders call for action with letter to US president, Congress


Bars signify how much debt was added under each presidency. Christa Kumming Buy Photos

Student leaders submitted a letter directed to  President Barack Obama and members of Congress on July 20, asking them to cast aside partisanship and personal and party persuasions to focus on creating a solution to the nation’s impending debt default.

The purpose of the letter is not to offer specific solutions to fix the country’s problem.

“What we’re asking is to have the debt ceiling raised immediately, along with long term spending cuts,” IUSA President Justin Kingsolver said of the general plan suggested in the letter.

The debt ceiling is the legal amount of money the federal government can borrow to pay its debts, and the U.S. will likely reach that limit sometime in the beginning of August, many analysts have predicted.

At that point, millions of dollars in scheduled payments from the federal government will have to stop, potentially including student loan aid, Social Security payments, and Medicaid and Medicare payments.

The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated the federal government would be unable to pay between 40 and 45 percent of the more than 80 million payments it needs to make every month.

By signing the letter, student government leaders are giving a voice to more than 2 million students they represent, Kingsolver said.

The letter reads, in part, “While you may disagree over which party shoulders more blame for our current situation, one thing is certain — young people will shoulder the consequences of gridlock during a time that requires bold action.”

The movement to write the letter began just a week before it was sent.

Mike Meaney, student body president at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., originally contacted Kingsolver when only a few names had been added to the letter.
Kingsolver said he was eager to add his support, as well as rally other student body presidents  in the Big Ten conference to do the same.

“Leaders of this generation are not going to bear the burden of the bad decisions,” he said. “We are.”

Kingsolver soon contacted the student body presidents at schools like Purdue and the University of Nebraska and was able to get their support.

But, in Washington, a solution to the debt ceiling problem does not appear to be easily found.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress and President Obama have been engaging in intense discussion over a potential deal to raise the debt ceiling, but neither side seems willing to cave to the demands of the other.

Democrats want to raise new revenue and cut from programs, while most Republicans want to only cut from programs without raising taxes.

The Republican-backed Cut, Cap and Balance Act was passed July 19 to try to remedy the situation in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republicans. The bill would have raised the debt ceiling but also cut large amounts of money from many federal programs without raising any taxes.

The bill was killed when it reached the Senate — controlled by the Democrats — in a party-line vote July 22. All of Indiana’s Republican members of Congress voted for the bill and Indiana Democrats voted against it.  

A self-described “Gang of Six” senators has formed a bipartisan group to broker a potential deal between the two sides.

The stakes in the battle are huge with millions of Americans’ financial situations hanging in the balance.

A default on the U.S. debt would likely send shockwaves throughout the U.S. economy and even send it back into a recession, analysts predict.

If U.S. leaders cannot reach a deal before the deadline for raising the debt ceiling, many Americans will likely not receive Social Security and other payments until they do.

Students would also be affected. Federal student loans could be on the chopping block if the debt ceiling is not raised, several analysts have predicted.

This means millions of students across the country could suddenly find that they can’t afford to go to college this fall.

Though Kingsolver is a self-proclaimed “proud Republican,” he said that was irrelevant to his involvement in the letter.

He does not believe the letter expresses a Democratic or Republican agenda, but rather disapproval on the part of his generation.

“This was our way to say directly to members of Congress that our generation has ideas and we deserve to be heard,” he said. “This was a good first step.”

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