The political power shift in Washington following the Democrats' reclamation of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives could mean less debt for Bowdoin students and their parents in the near future.

Among the top priorities House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi has set for the House, which will become Democrat-controlled when the new representative-elects are sworn in next January, is making a college education more affordable to middle- and low-income students.

The Democrats will aim to do this, Pelosi has said, in three primary ways: by increasing the cap on Pell grants?a form of need-based federal aid for college students?from $4,050 to $5,100; cutting federal interest rates on student loans in half; and imposing a 100 percent annual tuition tax credit for up to $3,000, which Democrats claim would save middle-income families more money than the current system of credits and deductions.

Bowdoin Director of Student Aid Stephen Joyce told the Orient that an increase in the cap for Pell grants would benefit the College by "replacing Bowdoin dollars with federal dollars." This would allow the College to be "more flexible" with the money it has set aside for tuition grants.

The freeing up of Bowdoin grant money would help the College remain need-blind in admissions, thereby increasing its accessibility to underprivileged applicants, Joyce said.

Joyce expressed enthusiasm about the fact that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, will be taking over as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Historically, Joyce said, Stafford loans?federal loans for college students?were issued through private lenders, which were often large banks. When he was president, Bill Clinton introduced the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP), allowing students to borrow money directly from the Department of the Treasury and sidestep private lender fees.

Joyce said that in recent years, Republicans have not been promoting direct lending. Kennedy announced last week that when the new Congress convenes, he plans to introduce a piece of legislation called the Student Loan Sunshine Act, designed to make dealings between colleges and private lenders transparent.

Kennedy's preference for the FDSLP and suspicion of big banks' profit motives will increase competition between public and private lenders, benefiting students who are looking for loans, Joyce said.

According to his office, between 40 and 41 percent of Bowdoin students are currently receiving financial aid from the College, the government, or private lenders.

Joyce said that it will be "fantastic" if Democrats can cut interest rates down from the current 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, as Pelosi proposed. However, he is unsure if doing so is economically feasible.

"The pessimistic side of me says there's no money to do this stuff," he said, citing the Iraq conflict and President George W. Bush's tax cuts as budget restrictions. "I think it's going to be very tough."

Joyce is not alone in his skepticism. In a November 17 Chronicle of Higher Education article, several experts expressed similar doubts.

"There's an enormous difference between campaigning and governing," Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, told the Chronicle. "The Democrats now must figure out how they will accomplish the things they have been promising."

The politicking that will influence the Democrats' actions in Congress leading up to the 2008 presidential election also makes Joyce wary.

"I worry terribly about a Congress that is (a) partisan and (b) terrified to act," he said. "I think they'll be worried first about the election and second about changing policy."

Joyce said that given the Democrats' razor-thin majority in the Senate and Bush's veto power, the Pell grant increase is the most likely to pass within the next two years. He noted that of the items on Pelosi's agenda, it has the widest bipartisan support.