By Andy Schmookler
A question for the voters of the 6th District: Does a guy who kicks people when they're down represent your values?
Take U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte's vote to double the interest rate on student loans.
The plight of students in America is of crisis proportions. They're being squeezed from all sides.
- College tuition rates have increased 500 percent over the past generation. In just the past four years, the cost of tuition at our Virginia public colleges and universities has increased by more than a third.
- While these costs have been skyrocketing, federal aid to college students has decreased. Meanwhile, state and local spending per college student, adjusted for inflation, reached a 25-year low this year.
- No wonder the burden of student debt has made today's young adults the most indebted generation in history. No wonder student debt in America is now, for the first time, greater than credit card debt and other consumer debt.
- When students emerge into today's job market, their prospects of finding work - to earn the money to pay off those huge debts -- are worse than that of any generation of Americans since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate of ages 18 to 29 is 50 percent larger than the rate for the labor force as a whole.
All of these changes have hit our youth through no fault of their own. Our economy, our government and our universities have dealt them a bad hand.
Isn't that the kind of situation - like when people are hit by an earthquake or a tornado - in which we Americans come through for one another?
Not Goodlatte. He was one of only two Virginia congressmen who voted to double the interest rate that these struggling young people must pay on their student loans. (Imagine your congressman voting to double the interest rate on your home loan.)
If Goodlatte had his way, millions of our youth, who already have the deck stacked against them, would be forced to cough up an average of $1,000 more each year, even while they are struggling to make ends meet.
Does Goodlatte want to persuade our youngsters to stay away from college? That's what's already happening, and the less affordable college gets, the fewer of our youth will be able to make the most of their God-given abilities.
Here's where Goodlatte's unkind and shortsighted policies hurt not only these young people, but our country as well.
College isn't for everybody. But if the American economy is going to remain vibrant in the 21st century, and if the American middle class is going to thrive, our nation needs an educated workforce. Policies that discourage the children of all but our wealthiest families from fulfilling their potential are recipes for national decline.
American workers now have to compete with billions of workers in Third World countries with a fraction of our standard of living. Is this the time to refuse to invest in our most precious resource -- our children?
Apparently, Goodlatte thinks so.
And Goodlatte's stinginess toward our youth has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility. While he's afflicting the afflicted, Goodlatte has shown himself quite willing to increase the comforts of the most comfortable. At a time when the fortunes of young families have sunk to a level not seen since 1959, and when the very wealthiest Americans have tripled their share of the national wealth and are now paying taxes at the lowest rates in 80 years, Goodlatte has voted twice for a budget that would lower their taxes still further. So Goodlatte's war on college students isn't about balancing budgets. It's about taking from average Americans to give to those who already have the most.
If these reverse Robin Hood policies represent your values, then Goodlatte is your man.
But if that's not your idea of America, then you'll be better represented by someone else. Someone like me.
Andy Schmookler is the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District.