Four Johns Hopkins students join Sen. Ben Cardin to discuss federal tax bill

Congressman leads roundtable discussion hosted by Greater Baltimore Committee

Five people pose for a photo in front of the U.S. flag

Image caption: From left: Makeda Stephenson, Elmer Zapata Mercado, Sen. Ben Cardin, Ashley Cook, and Linda Tchernyshyov

Four graduate students from Johns Hopkins University participated in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin on Monday hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee. The discussion included local business owners, clergy, and other community representatives who would be affected by the federal tax bill that is expected to be signed into law this week.

Cardin has represented Maryland in the U.S. Senate since 2007 and serves on the Senate Finance Committee. He opened the event with a discussion of the proposed tax bill, the process behind it, and what he sees as its limitations.

"The one thing we've been trying to accomplish in tax reform is simplification and predictability. I think in both cases, this tax bill fails," he said.

Hopkins leaders evaluate impact of congressional tax bill

Legislation, which is expected to be signed into law this week, preserves key existing tax exemptions for students

He added: "We don't know the full impact [of this bill], and we didn't have time to figure it out. … There has already been talk with my colleagues about a corrections bill. I think that's interesting—they've asked for bipartisan cooperation in fixing this bill and it hasn't even been passed yet."

The students were invited to the roundtable discussion because a previous version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives included provisions that would have cut benefits and tax exemptions for graduate students. After a series of protests mounted by students across the country, those provisions have been removed.

Still, said biomedical engineering student Makeda Stephenson, it's important for students to stay engaged in the political process.

"We have to be vigilant on behalf of the academic community in general," she said. "We have to stick together in order to prevent legislation that would erode our ability to continue the work that we do and contribute to the basis of American productivity."

History student Linda Tchernyshyov added that it is imperative that graduate students share their views and experiences with those in power.

"I think it's important that the voices of graduate students are heard," Tchernyshyov said. "Attending this meeting is, for me, as much about the future as it is about the tax discussion that has taken place over the past few weeks."

Stephenson and Tchernyshyov were joined by Elmer Zapata Mercado, who studies biophysics, and Ashley Cook, who studies cellular and molecular medicine.