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Meet a Senator With Six Figures Banked—Who Still Has Student Debt


National Journal. May 19. 2014.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut likes to talk about his student debt. He brings it up when Congress debates student loans, as it did last summer. He brings it up now, as Senate Democrats push legislation to address skyrocketing debt.

What he doesn’t talk much about is his bank account with six figures on deposit—ostensibly enough to pay off his loans, according to newly released Senate financial disclosures.

Murphy, a freshman Democrat and former House member, lists outstanding educational loans of $15,001 to $50,000 for himself and $15,001 to $50,000 for his wife, disclosures show. The documents also indicate the senator has a checking account with $100,001 to $250,000, and other assets all told valued at $120,007 to $375,000. The documents also show a mortgage valued at $250,001 to $500,000.

Why the senator has not paid off the loans yet isn’t clear. Murphy, who was scheduled to be in Hartford to discuss college affordability with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, was not available to comment.

Lawmakers regularly point to highlights from their biographies to make larger political or policy points. Majority Leader Harry Reid mentions his service as a Capitol Police officer. House Speaker John Boehner invokes his days working at the family bar.

For Murphy, it’s student loans.

Last week, he spoke about the crush of student debt for graduates of for-profit colleges, mentioning during brief remarks that he is still paying his own loans. In December, he penned an op-ed with fellow Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who also has outstanding student-loan debt.

“Like so many other families across the country, we and our spouses continue to pay off our own student loans at the same time we are saving for our children’s college funds,” Murphy and Schatz wrote.

Murphy’s loans have 30-year terms, with his taken out in 1998 with a 5.12 percent interest rate and his wife’s in 1997 with a 5.38 percent interest rate. Sallie Mae is the creditor for both, according to disclosures.

The rules governing personal financial disclosure require lawmakers to report their information, including assets, liabilities, and transactions, within a range, making it hard to paint an exact portrait of a lawmaker’s financial status.

The reports are due each year on May 15, but traditionally had been filed on paper, meaning documents were not available for public review until sometime in June. This is the first year the Senate Office of Public Records has put the records online for the public to access immediately. So far, roughly 70 senators had filed, with others expected to be uploaded online by the end of the week, according to the public-records office. Some senators have sought an extension.

Of course, Murphy is not the only senator carrying student-loan debt. Sen. Marco Rubio, a possible Republican presidential candidate, made headlines when, in 2012, he spoke about carrying student-loan debt.

The issue of student debt is also at the forefront of Senate Democratic leaders’ agenda, with Reid pledging to put on the floor later this year a bill that would allow debtors to refinance student loans at a lower rate.

At issue, Democrats say, is the skyrocketing debt taken on by students, which is now larger than credit-card and auto debt nationally, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Total outstanding student debt is more than $1 trillion, with one in 10 defaulting on that liability, according to the Young Invincibles, an advocacy group that supports the interests of 18- to 34-year-olds.

Republicans object to the payment provision in the Democrats’ student-loan bill, called the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which imposes a tax on millionaires to offset the cost of the program.

But Murphy is a cosponsor of the pending legislation and ranks student-loan debt as one of the biggest issues facing the public. He has also sponsored other bills aimed at addressing student loans, including one that would let students earn college credit in high school and a bill with Schatz that would encourage colleges to develop programs that lower costs.

He has also staked a position firmly to the left on the issue. During last summer’s floor debate over student-loan rates, Murphy was one of 16 Democrats to vote against a bill that reset spiking loan rates. And he invoked his own loans as first-hand experience and a sign that he understands the strain of college debt.

“My wife and I know the squeeze that millions of families are in today, as we pay back our student loans while trying to put away money for our kids’ future college education,” he said at the time.