Congressman talks about student loans, Chinese dissident

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Work moves forward on the outdoor lot at Coweta-Fayette EMC on Friday as U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, center left, tours the utiity.

By W. WINSTON SKINNER
winston@newnan.com
During his visit to Coweta-Fayette EMC on Friday, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland explained his vote on a controversial student loan interest bill and commented on the plight of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Westmoreland said he voted against a measure to keep interest rates on first-year student loans at 3.4 percent. The rates were reduced from 6.8 percent in 2007, and the pending July 1 increase has created wide media coverage.
Westmoreland said the one-year low rate is of limited value to students.
He also said there are other issues that are more significant to those currently in college. “We need jobs for those people who have student loans,” the Republican said.
Westmoreland described the student interest issue as “just a shell game.”
The congressman, who lives near Grantville, also spoke briefly about Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist who became the center of a diplomatic standoff during a visit by U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to China.
A self-taught lawyer and symbol in China’s civil rights movement, Chen embroiled Washington and Beijing in their most delicate diplomatic crisis in years after he escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy more than a week ago. He left six days later under a negotiated deal in which he and his family were to be safely relocated in China so he can formally study law, according to Associated Press.
Chen then upended the agreement by saying they wanted to go abroad.
On Friday, he was in a Beijing hospital where he was reunited with his wife, son and daughter. Westmoreland expressed concerns about reports that Chen may have been coerced to leave the embassy by American officials.
“I just hope that isn’t true,” Westmoreland said. “We don’t know all the truth about it right now – how it happened.”
Westmoreland reflected on the fiscal aspects of the United States’ involvement with Chen, as well as the human rights issues involved.
“We don’t know what it cost us economically or financially to make that happen,” he said of Chen’s temporary asylum at the embassy. “At some point in time, you have to quit rewarding people for bad behavior.”
Chinese officials have said Chen and his family can leave the Asian nation if he has an opportunity to study abroad. AP reported Chen has a letter of invitation from New York University.


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