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Highlights of U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan’s interview with The Daily Cardinal

While home on congressional recess, U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan stopped by Vilas Hall for an interview with The Daily Cardinal to discuss national and state politics before his town hall later that day.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger and Cameron Lane-Flehinger

In April, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., sat down for with The Daily Cardinal an hour-long interview to discuss issues surrounding the university, Wisconsin and the nation as a whole. Pocan represents Wisconsin’s second congressional district which includes Dane County and UW-Madison.

The following excerpts are from of Pocan’s interview.

CARDINAL: In March, you introduced a “Student Loan Refinancing Act” to allow students to refinance their federal loans whenever a lower interest rate is available. This bill was created in effort to get support across the aisle. Have Republicans shown support for this bill?

POCAN: Yeah, I think we have four [Republicans]. These days, wow, that’s a lot. Back in 2013, we introduced the very first bill ever on refinancing student loans, which is still essentially the same bill as what we put out now. The next year, Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand each put out their own versions. The biggest difference was their bills had specific rates students could refinance at and our bill allowed refinancing at the lowest available rate without a set percent. That way if rates are going up or down, you can refinance.

Because of the way we structured the bill, we have bipartisan support. It allows you to get the lowest available rate, just like you would with a house. Why shouldn’t you be able to do that in an easy way with your student loans?

CARDINAL: You’ve talked about how slow Congress is and how hard it is to get things passed, what do you think the likelihood is that this will pass? How will you ensure it’s success?

POCAN: Right now, Congress is just really tough on bills period. If we got the appropriation bills done, that’s supposed to be your 101 level of federal government, we’re not quite there yet.

But working with other groups that meet with Republicans. The American Dental Association helped us get some of our sponsors [for the Student Loan Refinancing Act]. It’s that kind of outreach that can help you build support until finally, hopefully, you can get to a point where there is a higher education reauthorization and you can get it added to that bill.

To attaching this bill onto another bill that’s moving through Congress might be a strategy.

CARDINAL: You sit on the appropriations committee, is there any part of President Donald Trump’s budget that will affect UW System students directly?

A lot. The Department of Education is a little misleading if you look at the percent cut it’s getting [in the federal budget] because they’re putting several hundred million into this taxpayer money going to private schools. So that cut is actually deeper to education. But if they don’t fund financial aid, if they don’t fund the National Institute of Health, you start looking at how much that would affect the UW if you don’t have financial aid dollars. There’s almost as much federal dollars going to the UW as there are state dollars going to the UW because of all these research pots [such as UW’s work with NIH]. All of that’s at risk to be cut as they do this $54 billion [defense funding]. So I look at it has an inverted pyramid where if you add $54 billion in defense, if you’re not going to add revenue everything else is going to go down to some degree.

A lot is in jeopardy with that budget.

CARDINAL: Have you thought about running for governor of Wisconsin in 2018?

POCAN: Yeah, no.

CARDINAL: So far, a Democrat hasn’t announced they will challenge Walker in 2018. Is there a strategy to Democrats taking the governor's office?

POCAN: A bunch of people who put their name out and dropped out means nothing to me. It’s still very early. I think by end of summer or fall it would be nice to have people start to talk about it. Two things: I think there is a core economic message that permeates the state. And then the fact that Scott Walker cut $2 billion from schools. Even though this current state budget, his reelection budget, he’s putting $650 million into help schools, he’s still $1.35 billion short.

And the roads, we have the fourth worst roads in the country and [Walker] won’t put any money in. I think 40 percent of the bridges in the country are old enough to be eligible for Medicare.

I think part of it is the general economic message and part of it is, as much as that whole politics of resentment focused on rural areas, he’s screwing over rural areas on a very regular basis. We need to get that message out. But you have to say it like that. You can’t just be polite. Have to say you’re getting screwed over by the governor, they know it, they feel it.

These quotes have been edited for clarity. 

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