Cuts in student aid decried


Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid joined Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes yesterday at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing to decry Republican initiatives to cut student aid.

About 80 Hopkins students and faculty members attended the hourlong forum where the three politicians promised that government "can do better" for students stepping up to fill the nation's nursing shortage. The event was simulcast to an overflow room where 100 more people were listening.

"Senator Sarbanes and Senator Reid [and I] believe the health care you get should not depend on what ZIP code you live in and the education you get should not depend on your family's income," said Mikulski, whose niece graduated from Hopkins' nursing program.

"The nation as a whole" should provide an "opportunity ladder" for future nurses, she continued, adding, "Republicans are trying to diminish this ladder by massive cuts to student aid."

Mikulski and Sarbanes said Senate Republicans want to cut $9 billion from student aid programs. Republicans also favor raising rates on student loans and adding fees to those loan transactions, they said.

Students, the three senators agreed, are graduating with an "absolutely unacceptable" amount of debt.

"We spend $5 billion on federal prisons yet we spend less than 2 percent of that on nursing education," Mikulski pointed out. "Something's wrong with our priorities."

Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz countered yesterday that the country's spending on financial aid has hit an all-time high during the Bush administration and that it will continue to increase as college enrollment numbers rise.

"Republicans want to make sure that waste, fraud and abuse are eliminated from [the student aid] system," he said. "What I want to know is whether Reid, Mikulski and Sarbanes are for waste, fraud and abuse."

Sarbanes said the higher education cuts would inexplicably follow a $70 billion income tax cut.

"If they would forgo the tax cuts, they wouldn't have to do these cuts," he said. "Their priorities are completely out of whack."

The Hopkins event was part of a Democratic initiative yesterday, with politicians across the country addressing the theme: "Time to Reform: Together, America Can Do Better."

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