Congressman visits Illinois College, talks about student debt, polarization of politics

Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, spoke Wednesday at Illinois College, sharing his view from Washington with faculty and students.

Davis, who represents Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, met with President Barbara A. Farley before speaking to a political science class led by Dane Wendell, assistant professor of political science. Davis also sat down with faculty and students in the Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum in Whipple Hall.

Davis is a colleague of the late congressman, who attended Illinois College in his freshman year and is featured on the museum’s Congressional Hall of Fame, which spotlights alumni who went on to become members of Congress.

At the museum, Davis spoke of the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, which passed alongside the CARES Act in 2020. Davis and Rep. Scott Peters, D-California, introduced the bill alongside 100 other representatives from both sides of the aisle. It allows employers to make tax-free student loan payments on behalf of their employees.

Davis called the bill a “private sector, voluntary” and “conservative Republican approach” to tackling the ongoing student debt crisis. He said the way to solve the crisis was to incentivize private businesses into stepping in.

“Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren keep saying that student debt’s going to be expunged,” he said. “That is never going to happen. And what it does is it encourages people who can least afford to borrow more to go borrow more because they think they’re never going to have to pay it back.”

Davis also touched on the possibility of colleges in the area shutting down and what the government could do to help them. He said the government should be partnering up with higher learning institutions and listening to what they needed, citing the current shortage of nurses in the country, as well as a lack of nurse educators, as an example of why.

“[I]f we don’t partner with institutions like IC to address the nurse educator shortage,” Davis said, “we’re never going to be able to get enough students who are interested in going into nursing into the nursing school programs that exist today.”

When asked whether he disagreed more with his colleagues due to political polarization, Davis said no, as they “were given less opportunities to vote on bills that have unanimous approval.” He said most of the bills passed in Congress were bipartisan, but they lacked media coverage.

“I pride myself on being able to build relationships with Republicans and Democrats,” he said, “and some Republicans will try to hold that against me. But I think it makes me a better legislator and it allows me to pass laws that are like our student debt repayment program.”

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