February 14,2001

Grassley Opening Statement at Education Tax Hearing

Opening Statement of Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance
Hearing: "Making Education More Affordable: The Tax Code as a Student Aide"
Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Good morning. I call this hearing to order.

On a preliminary note, I see from our witness list that nine senators, none from the Finance Committee, plan to testify on today's topic. To the best of my recollection, and the recollection of senior Finance Committee staff, that is a new record. Since this is our first legislative hearing under my chairmanship, I'm pleased to see this much interest, off the committee, in an important issue for the Finance Committee. This record number of senator witnesses is a signal of the importance of these education-related tax cuts.

Also, preliminarily, since so many of you want to testify, as a courtesy to your colleagues on the panels, I'm going to ask you to limit your testimony to three minutes.

As our Founding Fathers made very clear, an educated populous is the very foundation on which a self-governing nation sits. Education is the ticket to prosperity in America. No matter what an individual's background they can achieve a better future. Without education, the doors to the future are closed to them.

We must ensure that every student who has worked to gain entrance into an institution of higher learning has the wherewithal to fund it. Affordable education must be a priority ahead of the government's needs. Any other priority for which we intend to tax American citizens must be secondary to their educational pursuits.

So the government has a responsibility and an obligation to make education affordable. American families today have a higher tax burden than ever before. To make people beholden to the federal tax code instead of freeing their hard-earned income to fund their own, or their children's education, is not just wrong, it is immoral.

President Bush has made education a top priority. Three weeks ago he came out with a blueprint for strengthening elementary and secondary schools and making education more affordable for all Americans. The President has included education tax cut proposals as part of his agenda.

Today's hearing is not just an academic exercise. We expect the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee to take up the bulk of the president's education package. His package also includes tax provisions, such as expanding the Education IRA. When the president's package moves, the Finance Committee, in due course, will consider the education-related tax proposals.

It should surprise no one that the Finance Committee is leading off its legislative year with the topic of education. Last year, the Finance Committee approved the Affordable Education Act. This legislation included several education tax cut proposals. Unfortunately, President Clinton was able to thwart this education tax legislation with vetoes and veto threats. With a new president and a bipartisan atmosphere in Congress, I am optimistic these tax incentives will become law.

As chairman of the Finance Committee I intend to make tax incentives for the affordability and access to higher education a priority for the committee. This objective is a bipartisan one. Senator Max Baucus and I have taken the lead on two education bills. One to make permanent the tax-free treatment of employer-provided educational assistance and to apply the benefit to graduate education. The other would expand and simplify the student loan interest deduction.

I've been an advocate for reducing the burden of education debt for many years. For instance, I pushed for and obtained reinstatement of the student loan interest deduction which had been phased out starting in 1986. Last month, I introduced a bill to expand this deduction and eliminate the 60 month cap for when the deduction can be taken. Senator Baucus is the lead cosponsor of that legislation. This is the start of a new congress, and we'll have the opportunity to build on this bipartisan support and make education more affordable.

We'll hear from three panels of witnesses today. I'll introduce those panels, but first turn the floor over to the ranking member of the committee, Senator Baucus.