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Campaigning for fellow democratic Virginia senator, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine visited VCU’s campus Tuesday to talk about working in public service and answered questions from students.
The talk took place in the forum room of the student commons and was co-sponsored by a number of Greek organizations from around campus. The issues students seemed to be most interested in ranged from college cost to governmental gridlock.
Kaine told students that his most direct involvement with the cost of college was in his work with the congressional budget committee.
“The budget committee sets framework for how we spend money – including the two key areas where the federal government provides support to students: Pell Grant Programs and Stafford Loan Program,” he said.
Old Dominion University surpassed VCU for the total number of Pell Grant recipients during the 2012-13 school year. The State Council for Higher Education stated that the institutions had 7,179 and 7,022 students receive the grants, respectively.
“The affordability issue for college students is staggering right now,” Kaine said.
He riffed on his experience going through undergraduate school, then law school, saying in that time in the early 1980s college cost would rise along side inflation. Then a change occurred in the middle part of that decade, he said.
“Inflation would go up a little and college cost would go up a lot,” he said.
He blamed most of this change of the fact that schools were receiving less funding from the states they were serving.
Just this year Virginia legislators cut $5.4 million from VCU’s budget, leaving the school to scramble to reallocate funds and begin work on a new budget model.
“It’s a huge issue, not just for [students],” Kaine said. “But for the entire society because the better educated the society the more economically competitive we’ll be.”
When the session moved into a question and answer format many of the students wanted to simply know why Washington wasn’t working the way it should. One student brought up the fact that Harry Reid, the senate majority leader, had over 350 bills sitting on his desk, not making any action on them.
“We don’t work well enough together to get things done,” Kaine responded. “People see us grinding our wheels and not working together.”
He blamed disconnect between the house and senate on differing priorities. He said that he has been working find bills passed by the house he finds important and lead them to being passed by the senate as well. But Kaine said that the trouble also came from a much simpler level.
“It’s poor communications skills,” he said.
Students in attendance also asked Kaine about his opinion on the Islamic State, a topic Kaine has been in the news for recently.
He opposes President Barack Obama’s thought that the executive branch can declare war without a vote from congress, an obvious step away from the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which required congressional consent for the country to enter war.
“ISIL is a threat,” Kaine said. “I don’t think any current legal authority is really sufficient to start a war against ISIL.”
If congress does decide to go to war with ISIS he wants to include a sunset clause that would limit the engagement to a year if congress did not vote for reapprove the engagement.
At the end of the Kaine’s time students seems to wish he had spent more time on the issue that directly affected them: education.
Jeffrey Johnson graduated last year with a marketing major. He has college debt of his own, but did hear much from Kaine on how he planned to help this generation with staggering college prices.
“I know when my parents went to school they were able to work a summer job and still be able to pay off tuition,” Johnson said. “Now it takes an arm and a leg.”