"We have way too many barriers to education today," Congresswoman Lois Capps said. "Most of them are financial. Today a lot of college graduates end up with debt as large as a mortgage." Mustang Daily File Photo

Congresswoman Lois Capps met with Mustang Daily staff and reporters Tuesday morning to discuss topics such as education costs and bipartisan cooperation.

Capps is the representative for California’s 23rd district, which includes cities from Ventura to San Luis Obispo. Although the district lines will be redrawn for this year’s elections due to claims that the boundary lines benefit one political party, if reelected, Capps’ new district will still include the city of San Luis Obispo.

Capps said interacting with students was important to her, since one of her “top issues in Congress” is education. She said rising student debt is of particular concern.

“We have way too many barriers to education today,” Capps said. “Most of them are financial. Today, a lot of college graduates end up with debt as large as a mortgage.”

She said it can be especially difficult for students to repay their loans now, given the country’s economic recession and the high rates of unemployment.

“Getting a job after graduation is not a given, is it?” she said. “I know that’s daunting. You’re out there working your tails off and racking up all this debt, and what’s going to be out there for you? And the statistics are tough. What is it? About 9 percent unemployment for college graduates, and that’s kind of daunting.”

Capps said the government should be doing more to support students who choose to pursue a college degree and money put toward education should not be viewed by governmental officials as an expense, but rather as an investment in human capital.

“I think there are some public interests at stake, and it is in the national interest to have an educated workforce, and for us to be globally competitive,” she said. “It’s a national security issue, frankly. In my sense, it’s stupid of us not to (make college more affordable).”

Though Capps said she is very passionate about resolving this issue, her sentiment is not shared by all members of Congress. She said trying to find bipartisan compromises can be one of the most difficult aspects of her job.

Capps said since her election to Congress, it has been a goal of hers to only introduce bills if they had a Republican co-author to make the legislation more bipartisan friendly. To date she has succeeded, but she said she has noticed the climate in Congress has become more polarized.

“I am finding it increasingly difficult to find a Republican partner to work with on a bill,” Capps said.

She pointed to a bill that she is currently trying to introduce as an example.

The bill, called the Heart for Women Act, is meant to create research and educational programs that are aimed at recognizing the different way in which women exhibit signs of heart disease and heart attacks, as opposed to men.

“It’s a pretty innocuous bill,” Capps said. “It would cost a little bit of money, but it wouldn’t be a lot. It just illustrates to me the situation — I haven’t found anyone to work on that bill with me, and I’ve used all my charm.”

That charm got Capps recognition throughout her time in Washington, D.C — Capps was voted the nicest member of Congress by Washington Magazine three times since 2006.

When asked how she thinks these divisions could be bridged, Capps said she has seen the most effective problem solving coming from the community level. She urged interested individuals to express their opinions and work for a change.

“I’m very frustrated with not getting work done, so I’m frustrated right now,” she said.

Students who attended the event said they appreciated that she took the time to listen to their opinions.

Hailey Petersen contributed to this article.

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