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“Hoping For The Best”: In The Race For The Future, Virginia Foxx And House Republicans Are Willing To Tolerate Defeat

There’s been a fair amount of talk on Capitol Hill recently about student loans and interest rates, which led to an unsatisfying compromise in the Senate. But as part of the larger discussion, a notable lawmaker said something interesting that stood out for me.

Getting American kids into college without saddling them with massive debt shouldn’t be the government’s job, according to a prominent House Republican and possible 2014 Senate candidate. “It is not the role of the Congress to make college affordable and accessible,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said Wednesday morning during a committee markup of legislation that would halt federal officials from regulating for-profit educational institutions.

Foxx likened federal standards for things like the definition of a credit-hour to totalitarianism.

Well, sure, of course she did. She’s Virginia Foxx.

But it’s worth noting that there’s nothing inherently incorrect about her views on the federal role in higher education. It’s an inherently subjective question — some people believe federal policymakers have a role in making college affordable and accessible, some don’t. Foxx has her opinions on the matter, I have mine.

I’ve long hoped, however, that this generates a larger conversation about the future of the United States as a global superpower. There’s a spirited competition underway, and we have real rivals who’d be delighted to see us settle for second place. To remain on top, we’re going to need an educated workforce and electorate, and with this in mind, it makes sense if Americans were represented by a Congress that prioritized access to affordable higher-ed.

Or perhaps the nation prefers Foxx’s vision: some states will help young people get degrees; some won’t; Congress doesn’t care. Under this approach, education is of relative importance, but it’s just not a national priority.

Long-time readers have no doubt seen me mention this before, but I often think about some specific remarks President Obama made in 2009. He’d just returned from a trip to East Asia, and Obama shared an anecdote about a luncheon he attended with the then-president of South Korea.

“I was interested in education policy — they’ve grown enormously over the last 40 years. And I asked him, what are the biggest challenges in your education policy? He said, ‘The biggest challenge that I have is that my parents are too demanding.’ He said, ‘Even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education.’ He said, ‘I’ve had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they’re all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school.’ That was the biggest education challenge that he had, was an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools.

“And the same thing was true when I went to China. I was talking to the mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they’ve got 25 million people in this one city. He said, ‘We don’t have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions.’

“That gives you a sense of what’s happening around the world. There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning. That used to be what we were about.”

Right. The United States used to be about a lot of things.

But as we discussed in April, many American policymakers have shifted their focus away from insisting on excellence and towards, well, a Virginia Foxx-like attitude. Countries like South Korea and China can have their hunger for knowledge; we’ll just keep cutting education spending and hope for the best.

We’re the wealthiest country on the planet by an order of magnitude, so maybe we can just coast for a while, neglecting key priorities. Maybe we can stop looking at areas like education, energy, health care, and transportation as national problems — the way our competitors do — and can instead hope states figure something out. Someday. With some elusive resources.

Put it this way: while some countries are insisting on excellence in education, our country shrugs its shoulders while kids get thrown out of pre-schools because of budget cuts and young adults get priced out of college. Which side of the ocean is preparing for the future?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 26, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Isn’t Complicated”: Congress Must Fix The Bankrupt Student Loan Proposals

Interest rates on student loans will double on July 1 unless Congress acts. Since the phrase “congressional action” has become an oxymoron, this will quickly degenerate into an unnecessary crisis, requiring parents and students to threaten their legislators to get any relief.

Why is action even a question? There is a universal consensus — left, right and center — that it is vital to our nation to educate the next generation. If we want to compete as a high-wage, high-skill country, our children will need the best in college or advanced technical training. And all agree that gaining that higher education is a necessary, if not sufficient, requirement for entering the middle class.

So just as we pay for public education for kindergarten through 12th grade, we should ensure that advanced training or a public college education is available for all who earn it. None of this is even vaguely controversial.

Yet, despite this consensus, we are pricing college out of the reach of more and more families. State support for public universities has lagged. Increasingly, the costs have been privatized, with the bill sent to students and families.

With incomes stagnant for all but the wealthy few, the result, not surprisingly, has been an explosion of student debt. U.S. students and parents now owe an estimated $1.1 trillion in student loan debt, a sum greater than credit card or automobile debt. In 2005, average student loan debt was just over $17,000. By 2012, it was above $27,250, increasing more than 50 percent in just seven years.

With the debt burden rising and good jobs scarce, the result is calamity. Thirty-five percent of millennials — debtors under 30 — are seriously delinquent on their payments. In total, delinquent student debtors on the verge of default owe $113 billion, more than the total sums state governments spent on higher education in 2012.

The young people who do everything we ask of them — study, graduate, go on to higher education — end up deep in a hole. Burdened by debt, they have a hard time affording cars or apartments. Starting a family becomes difficult, a down payment on a home an impossible dream. This not only crushes the dreams of our best young people; it puts a real damper on the economy.

This isn’t complicated. Washington should be moving boldly to make advanced education affordable for all. The federal government should be increasing grants to states for public colleges, on the condition that the states increase their own contributions and act to curb college costs. The government should crack down on private colleges that ripoff students. And of course, college expenses should be subsidized so that successful young people don’t graduate into debtor’s prison.

But common sense is an endangered species inside Washington’s beltway. Interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans are about to double to 6.8 percent. Republicans have passed a “solution” that pegs loan rates to the rate of a 10-year Treasury note plus an arbitrary 2.5 percent. (Or plus 4.5 percent for parental PLUS loans). Loans fluctuate each year with interest rates, with a cap of 8.5 percent for student loans and a stunning 10.5 percent for parental loans. Kids will end up paying more, while the government will make billions on the deal for deficit reduction. But we should be subsidizing the next generation to get the education they need, not making money off of them.

President Obama’s plan isn’t much better. He sets the rate at the 10-year Treasury note rate plus .93 percent for subsidized Stafford loans (3.93 percent for parental loans) with no cap. He does call for limiting what students have to pay to 10 percent of their income, insuring that students aren’t condemned to bankruptcy. His plan is “budget neutral.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has offered a plan that makes a lot of sense. She suggests we offer students the same rate that the Federal Reserve charges to big banks (about .75 percent) for the next year, while Congress gets serious about a permanent fix. Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) suggest that the Congress do the easy thing, simply extend the current rates for two years, paying for it with the closing of various loopholes.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), like Warren, also makes sense. She would allow students and graduates to refinance into fixed 4 percent loans.

Is it any wonder that Americans grow cynical? Multinational corporations and wealthy investors stash literally trillions abroad to avoid taxes. The big banks rake in trillions in subsidies and discounted loan rates to rescue them from their own excesses. But Congress finds it impossible to make it affordable for the next generation to get advanced education and training.

As always, common sense won’t come to Washington unless citizens mobilize to force it on Congress. With graduations marked by student demonstrations across the country and pickets outside of Sallie Mae, the giant student loan bank, that movement may have begun. Student loans may be to this generation what the draft was to the boomers – the government folly that afflicts them personally and rouses them to act.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 5, 2013

June 9, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Education | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Passing And Punting On The Trail”: Mr. Thirteen Percent’s “Just Trust Me Campaign”

Mitt Romney, returning to New Hampshire on Monday with his new running mate, lasted only about 30 seconds before stumbling right into the issue that has dogged his candidacy like no other.

“Gosh, I feel like I’m almost a New Hampshire resident,” the winner of the state’s Republican primary told the crowd at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. “It would save me some tax dollars, I think.”

D’oh! Does Mr. Thirteen Percent really want to remind everybody how determined he is to keep his tax returns private?

Maybe so. The Republican standard-bearer seems to take a stubborn pride in his refusal to cough up details. My colleague Greg Sargent argues that Romney seems to be running a “just trust me” campaign that extends beyond 1040s and into the policy realm. It’s an intriguing observation, and so I kept an ear out for specifics as I listened to Romney and Paul Ryan hold their joint town hall meeting at Saint Anselm. Sure enough, they spoke and fielded questions for about an hour but deftly avoided detail.

“I’m going to do five things when I’m in Washington,” Romney announced. This was a promising start.

“Number one, we’re going to take advantage of our energy resources,” he offered. Excellent! Drilling? Pipelines? Nuclear? Romney did not say: Just trust him.

“Number two, I’m going to make sure that our schools are second to none,” Romney said. “We need our kids to have the skills to succeed. That’s number two,” he went on. Thus ended the education-policy segment of the program.

“Number three, I want trade that works for America,” Romney said. The closest he got to specifics here was to say he would “crack down on cheaters like China when they play on an unfair basis.”

“Go, Mitt!” somebody shouted.

Mitt did go — right to No. 4, to “show America that this team can put America on track to a balanced budget and stop the deficit spending.”

“Mitt, Mitt, Mitt, Mitt, Mitt!” the audience chanted.

He moved on to No. 5: reducing regulations. And here he had a specific, sort of: “I want to make sure that we get Obamacare out of the way and replace it with something which will help encourage job growth in this country.”

Replace it with . . . something?

Of course, Romney is hardly the first presidential candidate to avoid specific commitments and promises. His opponent, President Obama, was caught on a hot mike telling Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev to wait until after the election for a new Russia policy.

The difference with Obama, though, is he has already established a track record in office. By declining to put meat on the bones of his policy proposals, Romney wouldn’t have any mandate from the voters if he does defeat Obama. In policy speeches, he’s somewhat more specific than he is at typical campaign stops, but even then there’s nothing resembling a comprehensive plan for budget balancing, job creation or tax reform.

Romney and Ryan, in rolled-up sleeves and open collars, took the stage at Saint Anselm to the orchestral tune “Tryouts,” from the college-football film “Rudy.” This was appropriate, because the two men were about to pass and punt on issue after issue.

Ryan, the policy wonk of the pair, teased the crowd with the prospect of specific proposals (“We’re going to win this debate about Medicare!”) but then floated the idea of letting younger Americans, when they retire, “have a choice of guaranteed coverage options, including traditional Medicare.” That is a specific policy — but it hasn’t consistently been Ryan’s; he got the House last year to approve his plan phasing out traditional Medicare.

Still, that was apparently enough detail for one day. “I won’t go into all the things that we’re proposing to do to get jobs back, because I want to leave something for Mitt to talk about,” Ryan said. “The point is, we’re offering you solutions.”

Just trust them.

In fact, Romney didn’t furnish the promised proposals, and his foreign policy didn’t get much more elaborate than “American strength is critical.”

The audience members were friendly, but they wanted more details. His plan to reduce the debt?

“We want to grow this economy and cut federal spending.”

His tax plan? “I will not raise taxes on the American people.”

His Afghanistan plan? “Bring our men and women home, and do so in a way consistent with our mission.”

His plan to reduce student costs? “Make sure that when you graduate, you can get a job.”

Just trust him.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 20, 2012

 

 

August 26, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unhappy Surprises”: In A Democratic System, There Will Be “Wacky Primary Voters”

Missouri Republicans have just nominated a Senate candidate who appears to believe that the government’s college student loan program is the equivalent of Stage 3 cancer. Actually, he said “the Stage 3 cancer of socialism,” which is perhaps not the exact same thing. But I believe you get the idea.

This was a week after Texas Republicans nominated a Senate candidate who is worried about protecting the world’s golf courses from the United Nations. Republicans, I think you need to get a grip.

Meanwhile, the most cheerful place this side of Disney World is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the Democratic incumbent, was regarded as the political equivalent of roadkill until the Republicans picked Representative Todd Akin for her opponent. Now, the McCaskill campaign is doing a happy dance while Akin will be trying to explain that he thinks student loans are cancerous only when they come from the government rather than private industry.

This is not the kind of argument you really want to be having on your big primary win day. Also, Akin not only wants to keep the government out of the student loan business, his past votes suggest he also wants to see it steer clear of school lunches.

Before the primary, McCaskill ran an allegedly anti-Akin ad that cynics saw as an actual attempt to propel him to the front of the pack. It failed to mention the congressman’s principled opposition to the national School Breakfast Program, but instead denounced him as “too conservative” and an enemy of Planned Parenthood. Honestly, if you wanted to drive Tea Party voters to the polls, it was the next best thing to hiring a bus.

The Tea Party is once again giving Democrats a new lease on life. Not everywhere, of course. Tennessee Republicans seem to be happy with their incumbent senator, Bob Corker, while Democrats woke up on the day after their primary to discover that voters had nominated an anti-gay-rights activist named Mark Clayton, who, according to ClaytonforSenate.com, “works in insurance and is also writing a book intended as a scripture study aide.” A spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, which is disavowing Clayton, theorized that he won because “his name was at the top of the ticket.”

We have been through this sort of thing before, Democrats. Remember Alvin Greene? The guy you accidentally nominated to run against Senator Jim DeMint two years ago? The one who turned out to be facing felony obscenity charges? Didn’t everybody agree that from then on, if you gave the voters a ballot full of totally unfamiliar names, you would warn them which ones to avoid?

But mainly, the Republicans are the ones getting stuck with the unhappy surprises. Richard Lugar, the longtime senator from Indiana, was tossed out in a primary by a Tea Party favorite, Richard Mourdock, who went on to become involved in a controversy over whether or not he compared Barack Obama’s auto industry bailout to slavery. We do not really need to resolve the issue, except to say that Mourdock is fond of making convoluted historical analogies and that he really, really did not like the auto bailout, despite Indiana’s rather large population of autoworkers.

Besides Tea Party upsets, one of the big trends this year is for Democratic Senate candidates in red states to demonstrate their independence by announcing that they are not going to the party convention. This is pretty much a no-brainer, since these events are really, really boring anyway, unless 1) You really like to eat finger food paid for by special-interest groups or 2) You really enjoy being in Southern cities with high humidity around Labor Day.

Skip the convention! Everybody’s doing it! Although Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did seem to be going a little bit overboard when he refused to say if he’ll even vote for President Obama. “I am just waiting for it to play out. I am not jumping in one way or another,” Manchin told The National Journal. “I’m worried about me. I’ve said it’s not a team sport. You need to go out and work for yourself.”

You’ve got to give the man credit for candor. Manchin may be pretending to be more worried than he really is, given that the Republicans nominated a Senate candidate whose big media splash involved comparing no-smoking regulations to the Nazis’ actions. (“Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody’s lapel, remember that? Same thing.”)

Next week we have Wisconsin, where former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the guy everyone expected the Republicans to nominate for the Senate, is in trouble thanks to a challenge from — yes! — the Tea Party. And will Connecticut Republicans nominate a former congressman with a reputation for bipartisanship or a businesswoman whose claim to fame is building a professional wrestling empire? Duh.

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 8, 2012

August 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Romney’s Higher Education Plan”: A Giveaway To Wall Street Banks And Predatory Schools That Fund His Campaign

2012 presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney released his higher education plan Wednesday, decrying the nation’s “education crisis.” During a speechbefore the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Romney blamed President Obama for rising tuition prices and increasing student debt.

Of course, tuition increases and growing debt are a phenomenon several decades in the making. And Romney’s plan would make the problem decidedly worse in two important ways, giving federal money away to Wall Street banks and predatory for-profit colleges, two industries to which Romney has extensive ties.

First, as he’s promised before, Romney intends to divert money away from student aid — instead giving it away to banks — by repealing Obama’s student loan reforms:

Reverse President Obama’s nationalization of the student loan market and welcome private sector participation in providing information, financing, and the education itself.

President Obama did not nationalize the student loan market. (Plenty of banks still make private sector student loans.) Instead, Obama and the Democrats cut private banks out of the federal student loan program, ending billions in subsidies that were needlessly going to banks for acting as loan middlemen. The money saved went into the Pell Grant program. Romney’s plan would entail taking away Pell money in order to pay Wall Street to service federal loans.

Second, Romney would remove regulations meant to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges:

Ill-advised regulation imposed by the Obama administration, such as the so-called “Gainful Employment” rule, has made it even harder for some providers to operate, while distorting their incentives.

This rule simply states that colleges leaving too many students crippled with debt and without good jobs lose their access to federal dollars. Many for-profit schools make nearly all of their revenue from the federal government — in the form of the various streams of aid used by their students — yet have much higher rates of student loan default than public schools. Only 11 percent of higher education students in the country attend for-profit schools, but they account for 26 percent of federal student loans and 44 percent of student loan defaults.

Romney is already intimately tied to the for-profit college industry. Inside Higher Ed noted that two of his advisers “have lobbied on behalf of the Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix.” On the campaign trail, Romney has effusively praised Full Sail University, a for-profit institution. And it seems that his policy platform would be a boon to this industry which is, in many instances, extremely predatory.

By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, May 24, 2012

May 24, 2012 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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