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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

“The GOP Has It Backwards”: Republicans Want To Tax Students And Not Polluters

A basic economic principle is government ought to tax what we want to discourage, and not tax what we want to encourage.

For example, if we want less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we should tax carbon polluters. On the other hand, if we want more students from lower-income families to be able to afford college, we shouldn’t put a tax on student loans.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, congressional Republicans are intent on doing exactly the opposite.

Earlier this year the Republican-led House passed a bill pegging student-loan interest rates to the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, plus 2.5 percentage points. “I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the co-sponsor of the GOP bill, said.

Republicans estimate this will bring in around $3.7 billion of extra revenue, which will help pay down the federal debt.

In other words, it’s a tax — and one that hits lower-income students and their families. Which is why several leading Democrats, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, oppose it. “Let’s make sure we don’t charge so much in interest that the students are actually paying a tax to reduce the deficit,” he argues.

(Republicans claim the President’s plan is almost the same as their own. Not true. Obama’s plan would lead to lower rates, limit repayments to 10 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income, and fix the rate for the life of the loan.)

Meanwhile, a growing number of Republicans have signed a pledge – sponsored by the multi-billionaire Koch brothers — to oppose any climate-change legislation that might raise government revenues by taxing polluters.

Officially known as the “No Climate Tax Pledge,” its signers promise to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

By now 411 current office holders nationwide have signed on, including the entire GOP House leadership, a third of the members of the House as a whole, and a quarter of U.S. senators.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports that two successive efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions by implementing cap-and-trade energy bills have died in the Senate, the latter specifically targeted by A.F.P.’s pledge

Why are Republicans willing to impose a tax on students and not on polluters? Don’t look for high principle.

Big private banks stand to make a bundle on student loans if rates on government loans are raised. They have thrown their money at both parties but been particularly generous to the GOP. A 2012 report by the nonpartisan Public Campaign shows that since 2000, the student loan industry has spent more than $50 million on lobbying.

Meanwhile, the Koch brothers – whose companies are among America’s 20 worst air-polluters –have long been intent on blocking a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. And they, too, have been donating generously to Republicans to do their bidding.

We should be taxing polluters and not taxing students. The GOP has it backwards because its patrons want it that way.

 

By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, July 6, 2013

July 8, 2013 Posted by | Education, Environment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Widening The Gender Gap”: Prioritizing Recruitment Over Policy, The Unfortunate Timing Of The GOP’s “Project Grow”

We talked last week about a new Republican project, designed to “advance the role of women within our party.” On Friday afternoon, the initiative, which will fall under the umbrella of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was formally launched, along with its new name.

With a stagnant number of women in its caucus, the House GOP’s campaign organization announced a new program Friday, Project Grow, to recruit, mentor and elect more female candidates in 2014.

“We need more women to run,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said. “Project Grow will plant that seed that will get them thinking of doing it.” […]

“Women are the majority, and we need to do a better job, and that’s what this is all about,” NRCC Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said of Project Grow at the event.

According to the project’s website, it’s actually an acronym: “Project GROW” stands for “Growing Republican Opportunities for Women.” (Yes, the “G” in “GROW” stands for “grow.”) Once the initiative was launched, the Republican National Committee touted the effort with an unfortunate choice of words: “We need to be a party that allows talented women to rise to the top.”

This, of course, led DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz to immediately respond to the use of the word “allow”, “Democratic women DO rise to the top. We don’t need permission.”

Stepping back, it’s worth noting that there’s nothing especially wrong with the idea behind “Project GROW,” and I think there’s value in major parties recruiting more women candidates to seek and hold public office. The Republican Party is currently dominated by men, especially in Congress — remember the House committee chairs? — and if the party is committed to making gender diversity a priority, more power to ’em.

The problem, however, is what Republican leaders think efforts like these will do for the party.

GOP officials seem to understand that the gender gap is large and getting larger. The party is not only alienating racial and ethnic minorities at an alarming pace, it’s also watching women become more Democratic with each passing year.

It makes sense that Republicans want to do something about this. It doesn’t make sense that Republicans have a diagnosis that has nothing to do with the underlying ailment.

I haven’t seen any polling on this lately, so I’ll concede that my assessment is based more on observation than quantitative analysis, but I have a strong hunch that if a pollster were to ask American women nationwide about why the GOP is struggling with women voters, “candidate recruitment” would not be near the top of the list.

Rather, the problem seems to be with the Republican Party’s policy agenda. If “Project GROW” brings a more diverse slate of candidates, that’s nice, but if the candidates are pushing the same proposals that drove women voters away in the first place, Republicans will probably be disappointed with the results.

Indeed, even the timing of “Project GROW” helps reinforce the larger issue — the national party is prioritizing candidate recruitment, while Republican policymakers at the state and federal level are pushing measures that severely undermine women’s rights.

Adding insult to injury, Republicans have chosen Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to play a leadership role in this project, despite the fact that she opposes pay-equity measures for women, and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Let’s make this plain for party leaders: recruitment matters, but policies matter more. If Republicans want to close the gender gap, they’ll need to reconsider their agenda, not just their slate of candidates.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 1, 2013

July 2, 2013 Posted by | Gender Gap, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Snuggling Up To Crazy People”: Mitt Romney Crawls Into Bed With Rep Steve King

Today Mitt Romney is experiencing another vicissitude of a campaign that requires a uniformly strong performance across a large landscape of battleground states: it can bring you into close proximity to crazy people in your party. In Iowa, he’s all snuggled up to Rep. Steve King:

At a rally in the most conservative county in Iowa, Mitt Romney enthusiastically endorsed conservative lightning rod Rep. Steve King — prompting the Obama campaign to renew its claim that the Republican supports an extreme social agenda.

“I’m looking here at Steve King,” Romney declared about halfway through his speech. “He needs to be your Congressman again. I want him as my partner in Washington!”

As Team Obama quickly pointed out, King has recently declared himself “open” to Todd Akin’s views about women not being able to conceive if subjected to “legitimate rape,” and has a vast record of extremism on many subjects, particularly immigration and laws against cruelty to animals. King is also a Very Big Dog in Iowa right-wing circles, and is actually in a rare competitive race against Christie Vilsack, so Mitt does not have the luxury of giving him a wide berth. But Democrats will have great sport identifying the two men in parts of Iowa—not to mention other states—where comparing immigrants to dogs while also voting against restrictions on dog-fighting don’t go over so well.

But hey, it gets better! At some point Mitt will almost certainly get to campaign in Florida with Allen West and in North Carolina with Virginia Foxx!

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 7, 2012

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

The Virginia Foxx Bill: “Protecting The Freedom Of For-Profit Schools To Suck Off The Government Teat Without Any Accountability Whatsoever Act”

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a bill with the impressive, everybody-can-get-behind-this title “Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act.” Sponsored by the ultra-conservative North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, the bill ostensibly took aim at an issue close to small-government-loving hearts: intrusive federal regulation of for-profit colleges — fast growing, highly profitable outfits like DeVry University or the online-only University of Phoenix.

Like so many of the bills passed by the House since Republicans gained the majority in the 2010 midterm elections, the bill was designed to repeal specific actions taken by the Obama administration. In this case, the issue at hand was the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure greater “program integrity” in the for-profit educational sector. Specifically, a new federal definition of what constitutes a legitimate academic “credit hour” and a new requirement that all online providers of post-secondary education be accredited in each and every state in which they do business.

Foxx’s bill repealed both measures. (The Senate has yet to address the measure.) According to Foxx, the new federal regulations threatened “innovation” in the educational sector. As reported by InsideHigherEducation, Foxx is on record as declaring that for-profit colleges do a “a better job of being mindful about efficiency and effectiveness than their nonprofit peers.” By, for example, flexibly providing online education when and where low-income working Americans want it, the for-profit free market delivers the kind of quality higher education that Americans so desperately need. The government should just stay out of their business.

I stumbled upon this story while researching the student loan crisis and at first I was perplexed. I didn’t understand why Republicans were opposed to higher academic standards for the for-profit sector, and I didn’t get the connection to student loans. But it didn’t take much research to discover what was really going on: an example of blatant hypocrisy sufficient to outrage even the most jaded observer of American politics.

The for-profit educational sector is an industry almost entirely subsidized by the federal government. Around 70-80 percent of for-profit revenues are generated by federal student loans. At the same time, judging by sky-high dropout rates, the for-profit schools do a terrible job of educating students. The Obama administration’s efforts to define a credit hour and require state accreditation were motivated by a very understandable desire: to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth when federal cash pays for a student’s education. In contrast, Foxx’s legislation is designed to remove that taxpayer protection. So here’s a more accurate title for her bill: “The Protecting the Freedom of For-Profit Schools to Suck off the Government Teat Without Any Accountability Whatsoever Act.”

The for-profit educational sector has been growing extraordinarily rapidly for the past decade: 12 percent of all post-secondary students are now enrolled in for-profit schools, up from 3 percent 10 years ago. But the main beneficiaries of the growth appear to be the shareholders and executives of the largest publicly traded for-profit schools, not the students.

  • 54 percent of the students who enrolled in 2008-2009 in 14 publicly traded for-profit schools had withdrawn without a degree by 2010.

The pathetic performance of the for-profit sector in delivering actual degrees becomes all the more alarming when you realize that most of the students who are dropping out paid for their educations with student loans that have to be paid back: According to a report released in the summer of 2010 by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, “Emerging Risk?: An Overview of Growth, Spending, Student Debt and Unanswered Questions in For-Profit Higher Education,” in 2009, the five largest for-profit schools reported that government grants and loans accounted for 77.4 percent of their revenue.

The Harkin reports comes to a stark conclusion:

The Federal government and taxpayers are making a large and rapidly growing investment in financial aid to for-profit schools, with few tools in place to gauge how well that money is being spent. Available data show that very few students enroll in for-profit schools without taking on debt, while a staggering number of students are leaving the schools, presumably many without completing a degree or certificate.

It is precisely this situation that the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure “program integrity” were designed to address. Student loans are tied to credit hours: By requiring a more rigorous definition of credit hour, the administration was attempting to make sure that government money was paying for actual education. Similarly, the requirement that all for-profit schools must be accredited by the individual states in which they do business was a measure designed to keep fly-by-night online schools operating out of states with weak accreditation requirements from enrolling out-of-state students and ripping them off. The issue is not “innovation.” The issue is basic consumer protection.

One would imagine that Republicans, who theoretically oppose government involvement in the private sector, and are always looking for ways to cut government spending, would approve of efforts to seek greater accountability for taxpayer funds. Virginia Foxx, after all, was notorious for being one of only 11 members of Congress to vote against a federal relief package for victims of Hurricane Katrina, citing the “high potential for the waste, fraud and abuse of federal tax dollars.”

But as it turns out, Foxx herself is benefiting from the waste and abuse of federal tax dollars. Among the top 20 financial contributors to Foxx in the 2011-2012 cycle are the Association of Private Sector Colleges/Universities, the Apollo Group (owner of the University of Phoenix), and Corinthian Colleges. Since federal student loans comprise the vast majority of the revenues of those for-profit schools, it follows that their campaign contributions to Foxx are also made possible by U.S. taxpayers.

 

By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, April 16, 2012

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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