WASHINGTON — Democrats wasted no time Thursday in going after U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton as he prepares to enter the U.S. Senate race next week, sharply criticizing the freshman 4th District congressman’s opposition to a student loan bill that has broad bipartisan support.
Cotton, who plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., was one of a handful of Republicans to vote Wednesday against the legislation that settled months of partisan discord over how interest rates on federally backed college loans should be set. During that time, rates doubled as a temporary fix expired.
"Just like his previous votes to gut Medicare and shelve the Farm Bill, Tom Cotton is once again positioning himself far outside the mainstream of most Arkansans," said Jeff Weaver, Pryor’s campaign manager. "Tom Cotton voted against Arkansas students and families."
Cotton is expected to publicly announce his run for Senate in his hometown of Dardanelle on Tuesday. Pryor has already announced he will seek a third-term.
The Republican National Committee joined the fray on Thursday, issuing a press statement attacking Pryor as out of step with Arkansas values. The statement cited a number of statements Pryor had made in support of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. It also pointed to votes cast in favor of environmental regulations that Republicans say are costing jobs.
The student loan bill cleared the Senate last week and passed the House on Wednesday, 392-31. President Obama plans to sign it into law, which will reset rates to pre-July levels. Future rates would be tied to 10-year Treasury notes.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also issued a harshly worded statement Thursday calling Cotton an arrogant and extreme ideologue.
"Cotton votes in lock step with Washington special interests and against Arkansas, but still thinks that he deserves a promotion," said Justin Barasky, a DSCC spokesman.
Cotton voted against a similar bill last month saying he wants the federal government to get out of the student loan business and leave the job to the private sector.
"Unfortunately, too many students today struggle for years to repay their loans because Washington politicians dictate student-loan rates and end up hurting students and taxpayers alike," Cotton said in a statement Thursday. "It’s causing tuition costs to skyrocket, leaving students buried in debt, often without jobs and forced to delay buying a home and starting a family."
Cotton, a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, said that his education was paid for through family savings, his own labor and a combination of private loans and Stafford loans funded by the government. He said he repaid the loans two years after graduating.
At the time, tuition and fees for four years of undergraduate and three years of law school at Harvard would have cost about $196,000, according to a Harvard University Fact Book.
The 25 Democrats who voted against the bill opposed linking the student loan rates to Treasury notes, saying it would cost students more down the road.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement Wednesday praising the bill’s passage.
"We’ve taken an important step to help make life work for students and families trying to afford the cost of college," he said. "Going forward, the whims of Washington politicians won’t dictate student loan interest rates, meaning more certainty and opportunities for students to take advantage of lower rates."