Fact check: What does Grandma know about student loans?

Posted September 22, 2014

This is a still image from the Senate Majority PAC's "Grandma" ad.

— Matt is a "nice boy" researching the Senate race for his tea-drinking granny, but it's our hipster young man who gets schooled on state House Speaker Thom Tillis' student loan positions in Senate Majority PAC's latest ad.

The Democratic-backing group is spending $1 million to air the ad over the next 10 days across North Carolina, according to spokesman Ty Matsdorf. Senate Majority PAC is a so-called Super PAC, able to raise and spend unlimited money from wealthy donors but prohibited from coordinating directly with candidates. 

Matt opens the commercial with some claims that should be familiar to anyone paying attention to the race between Tillis and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent.

The Republican state House speaker "supports a plan that would end Medicare as we know it." That Medicare claim is based on Tillis' praise for a budget put forward by U.S. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican. We gave that claim our first formal yellow light, while Politifact rated it as "Mostly False" and The Washington Post's Fact Checker gave it two Pinocchios

For the purposes of this fact check, we're setting aside the Medicare claim and are more interested in what Grandma has to say.

"Did you know Tillis won't support a bill to let students refinance their college loans? So, you're going to pay more," says Grandma. "Yup. Tillis is sticking it to you, too." 

The Question: What is Tillis' position on student loans, and is he, ahem, "sticking it" to young Matt? 

The Backup: Senate Majority PAC points to one news story as establishing Tillis' position on student loans. In that June 11 News & Observer report, Tillis initially refused to comment on a federal student loan bill that was defeated in the U.S. Senate. He then issued a statement critical of the bill.

"The bill has many glaring issues, like the fact it significantly increases the national debt, doesn’t make college more affordable and does nothing to create jobs for the millions of recent graduates who are unemployed because of the failed economic policies of Kay Hagan and President Obama," Tillis wrote.

Push Back: Tillis' campaign echoed those remarks Monday. 

"Thom knows firsthand what it’s like to not be able to afford college, having spent years working before he earned his degree," said Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin. "Thom opposed the bill because it was a political stunt which added to the national debt and did nothing to make college more affordable or help college graduates find jobs after graduating."

It's worth noting for both sides of the argument that Tillis' opposition was immaterial to the bill's fate. While as state House speaker, Tillis controls the flow of legislation in his chamber, he had no influence over the movement of this bill. 

About the Bill: The bill in question would have allowed those who borrowed using federally-backed student loans to refinance those loans if the current interest rates were lower than the rates at which they borrowed. This was a plan put forward by Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and while it garnered 58 votes in the 100-member U.S. Senate, it failed to get the 60 needed to break a GOP filibuster of the legislation. 

According to data compiled by the liberal Generation Progress and analyzed by U.S. News and World Report, roughly 678,000 borrowers, or 64 percent of North Carolinians with student loan debt, would have been able to take advantage of such a program.

Republicans criticized the program because, among other reasons, they said it would cost the federal government money and therefore increase the national debt. The bill actually offset costs by raising taxes on those earning more than $1 million annually. 

While the Warren bill would certainly be a better deal for borrowers, it's worth noting there are some programs offered by private institutions to consolidate and refinance student loan debt. 

Additional Notes: Rating this student loan claim is difficult for some of the same reasons that the "ending Medicare as we know it" claim aggravated fact checkers. Tillis' campaign hasn't really developed much of a position on either front. On Medicare, Tillis' campaign website mentions the health insurance program for the elderly almost exclusively in the context of criticizing Hagan's work on the program rather than outlining his own position. 

Similarly, it is tough sledding for anyone looking for what Tillis' affirmative position on student loans might be. The "Meet Thom" section of his website, which outlines Tillis' basic policy positions, speaks only to K-12 education, not colleges and universities or student loans.

For Hagan's part, she voted for the Warren bill, but her website is no more specific when it comes to student loans, saying only that she is "leading the effort to keep federal Stafford loan rates from doubling." However, she has been a player in the student loan debate in Washington, D.C., backing the Democratic majority's efforts. 

Fact Check Yellow The Call: Just to be clear, we're not rating the dodgy "end Medicare as we know it" claim again, and instead, this fact check focuses on the student loan claim.

On that score, we teetered on the edge of giving this ad a green light on our fact-checking scale. It is true to say that Tillis opposed the bill at the time it passed and reiterated that opposition Monday. 

However, Grandma is overstating Tillis' influence over this bill when she tells her grandson Tillis' opposition means "you're going to pay more." Tillis may be opposed to the bill, but as a state level official, he had little to no say in the matter. As with the Medicare claim, it's hard to say what Tillis' position is on student loans, but to say he's actively "sticking it" to anybody on this point is a stretch and earns the ad a yellow light.


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  • 42_wral_mods_suck_i'm_gone Sep 26, 2014

    You have to admit GOP or Dem, it's a great commercial.

  • ralnc Sep 25, 2014

    it is now fact the five bonus days that were awarded to state employees cannot be used until ALL previous accrued time is exhausted. Many state employees do not realize this and will not realize it until they tried to use these bonus days. Another false benefit promised to state employees from Tillis and McCrory.
    See below:
    Our HR/Payroll system is currently configured to exhaust all compensatory time and vacation leave prior to bonus leave. Additionally, there is an advisory note in our policy that indicates this (see below).

    Section 5, Vacation Leave, page 109:

    Scheduling Bonus Leave

    (1) Bonus leave shall be taken only upon appropriate authorization.

    Advisory Note: In the BEACON HR/Payroll System, it shall be used after holiday compensatory time, over-time compensatory time, gap hours compensatory time, on-call compensatory time, travel compensatory time, holiday compensatory time and vacation leave.

    (2) Bonus leave may be used for any purpose for which regular vacation leav

  • heelzfan4 Sep 24, 2014

    Tillis' comments about this are right up there with the "7 percent teacher's salary raise" he boasts on TV. He fails to mention the word "average" as the commercial does indeed show on screen! Gotta love politics!

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Sep 24, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Right. We all agree on that. Did you even read the article?

  • Danny22 Sep 24, 2014

    Grandma knows that if you borrow money, you should pay it back.

  • miseem Sep 23, 2014

    As I said earlier, these fact checkers are giving Tillis a major out in accountability for anything he has done as a state legislator. This has been a standard cop out for the WRAL fact checkers in most of the ads against Tillis.

    "Tillis may be opposed to the bill, but as a state level official, he had little to no say in the matter"

    So what, pray tell, should we be holding him accountable for if we can't hold him responsible for statements, votes and actions as the leader of the NC House? How do we determine what he does stand for, and will vote for as a US Senator if we can't consider his past record? Do you think he is going to change his stripes when elected to a US Senate seat? If he says he is against a bill now, he has committed himself to that stand as a US Senator and currently supports whatever actions (or inactions) that vote would entail. If anything, I would expect him to move further to his normal far right radical roots if elected for a six year term.

  • miseem Sep 23, 2014

    View quoted thread

    But those numbers jumped exponentially after 2005. Who do you think were the first ones laid off beginning around 2007, and who kept saying that the laid off workers just needed new skills and more education? Could be the same people calling the unemployed freeloaders. Hard to pay those tuition bills on unemployment insurance. Even harder today in NC. What I'm wondering is some of these people claim to have paid off loans in the 1970's, never heard from the college loan people about any outstanding loan balances, but are getting social security checks cut for repayment today. You can contest it, but how many people have cancelled checks from 1974? But of course, you trust the government to be correct in a 40 year old loan not being repaid, but complain about them not being able to run a health insurance program today. Just depends on your agenda.

  • 50s Child Sep 23, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Great news! Then Sallie Mae has been dismantled and the earth sown with salt, right?


  • teleman60 Sep 23, 2014

    "Who better to fund the government than graduating students, right?"

    Just got to luv them republicans voting for BILLION DOLLAR Defense funding for armor and aircraft the Services don't want or can't use! Yea, that's a good idea BUT CUTTING the Student Loan program interest rate to help our society get past the current job starvation - NOOOO, we can'y do that.

    Hint: These are the people that gave us 6 years of multimillion dollar political witch hunts BUT NOT ONE JOBS PROGRAM! Not one infrastructure program. They bailed out WALL ST to the tune of TRILLIONS BUT helping fix a disastrous economy for the next generation that did nothing but WHAT THEY WERE TOLD - NAAAAAA we can't do that...

  • teleman60 Sep 23, 2014

    If we don't do something to help the situation we may find that students graduating with no jobs and $40000-$100,000 college debt WON'T BE ABLE TO BUY HOMES, WON'T BE ABLE TO BUY CARS, WON'T BE ABLE TO BUY ANYTHING! Millions of students who did what society encouraged and went to college FEEL PURPOSELY SCREWED! Why, because higher education is a MONEY MACHINE!

    That's what I was told when I went to work at NCSU - it's a money machine that spent HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS while the state was laying off workers, while things were really bad, NCSU was building $42 million dollar buildings while laying off teachers and staff, building a WORLD CLASS GOLF COURSE in Centennial Campus, Lakes and a new Chancellors Mansion that he was embarrassed to move into because of it being SO OVER THE TOP!~

    What's wrong with this picture?????

    Then let's talk about the BILLION DOLLAR COLLEGE SPORTS PROGRAMS!!!

    America needs to get it's head out of it's bum and realize the students need some relief,