Shaheen talks to students on debt, death penalty and gridlock in Washington
Political science students at the University of New Hampshire got a glimpse into some of the biggest issues in Washington, D.C., yesterday when U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen visited their Introduction to American Government class.
“It’s rather rare that you can bring a U.S. senator (to class),” professor John Kayser said. “I think for the students just to see a senator, I think that’s good.”
Shaheen visited the university with the goal of discussing new student loan legislation. But during a question-and-answer session, the students were more interested in hearing her thoughts on Washington gridlock and what steps she’s taking to push past it. Serving as both a state senator and governor has proved useful, she said.
“When you go from being governor to one person out of 100, it is helpful to have some legislative experience,” she said.
On student loans, Shaheen said she’ll introduce legislation to create a one-stop online portal where students can view both their public and private loans. New Hampshire students graduate with the second-highest average student loan debt in the country, which is a problem for students personally and the state’s economy, Shaheen said. She also reminded students of recent legislation that kept interest rates from doubling and a federal program that forgives loans for those who enter public service jobs such as teaching. Both Shaheen and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte supported the interest rate legislation while neither were in Congress when the loan forgiveness program passed.
But the students seemed more concerned about lowering costs now. Shaheen’s upcoming piece of legislation would not change how much students owe.
Mitch Gustin, a junior from Nashua, asked whether lawmakers are doing anything to lower UNH’s tuition rates, a matter which Shaheen explained is handled by the state Legislature. In last year’s biennial budget, lawmakers reached an agreement with the university system to freeze tuition for two years and restored cuts made under former House speaker Bill O’Brien.
But the discussion quickly switched to other issues, ranging from her view on the death penalty to legislation she’s pursuing on energy efficiency. Not all students were impressed with what she had to say.
“I felt like she was talking more about how she tried to do this or tried to do that, instead of what’s actually going to be done,” sophomore Rhianna Llewellyn of Wolfeboro said.
Student Erik Comeau asked how Shaheen works with Ayotte and other Republicans. Both she and Ayotte serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and all of the female senators get together for dinner once every two months, Shaheen said. It was the female senators who pushed for an end to the October government shutdown in a bipartisan way, she said.
And since last year, Shaheen’s been pushing a bill with Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, to develop a national energy efficiency strategy. They’ll re-introduce the bill on the Senate floor this week. She is also working with Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, on a plan to bring Washington onto a biennial budget system.
Student Sarah Unruh was curious about another issue Shaheen dealt with as governor that’s back in the news: the death penalty.
As governor, Shaheen vetoed a bill to repeal the death penalty and her view on the matter hasn’t changed.
“I still think there are certain crimes, like the bombers of the Boston Marathon, that are so heinous that the death penalty should be considered,” she said.
The Legislature will vote on a death penalty repeal again this session. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has stated her opposition to the death penalty.
Only one student brought up the Affordable Care Act, asking Shaheen why she and other members of Congress aren’t participating in the exchanges. She was quick to tell him that was untrue. Her staff members have purchased plans on the exchange; she has not because she is on Medicare.
“That’s just wrong. That’s bad information that’s been perpetrated by critics of the Affordable Care Act; it’s just not accurate,” she said. “You’re watching too much Fox News.”
None of the students asked Shaheen about her upcoming re-election bid. As of now, there are three Republicans preparing for a primary. Shaheen declined to comment on former U.S. senator Scott Brown’s continued flirtation with a run.
“The Republican Party’s going to decide who their nominee is,” she said following the discussion.