Op-Eds

Do Something, Congress

How to change perceptions of a do-nothing Congress & get real work done by 2013

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Washington, May 14, 2012 | comments

I know I’m not the only American frustrated with Congress right now.  But I’m also optimistic that Congress will rise above politics to make some important decisions that will directly impact the educational opportunities, health and economic security of American families.

One critical issue facing Congress deals with college students and college affordability. On July 1, 2012, interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.  Stafford student loans are an important tool for making higher education affordable for middle class families.  Without congressional action, these interest rates will increase for more than 461,533 Texas students. 

In our 21st century economy, an increasing number of jobs require a college degree.  But even as these degrees are becoming more crucial to success, they are also becoming more difficult to obtain.  In order for our country to continue to be a land of equal opportunity, students who have the drive, grades and commitment must continue to have access to the education they need to succeed.

But tuition rates have risen over 32 percent in the last decade, closing the doors of opportunity on many of today’s students.  Not surprisingly, students have turned to loans to support their educational aspirations, and the current low interest rates certainly sweeten the deal. If Congress does not act soon to keep student interest rates low, the problem of college affordability will only get worse. 

Unfortunately, the House Majority allowed politics to get in the way of taking real action on this issue.  In April, the House Majority introduced a disingenuous bill that would have paid for extending these student loans by gutting a fund that is crucial to providing healthcare to women and children. Middle class Americans should not have to choose between the education of their children and the health of their families. And they deserve better than a Republican-led Congress that is willing to play partisan politics with their future.

In addition to working to extend the current student loan rates, Congress must also take action on a number of other looming issues that affect the middle class, small businesses, doctors and others who use vital government programs, like seniors and low-income children. 

A long list of tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2012, including payroll tax cuts, the alternative minimum tax cut and present tax rates on income and capital gains.  Additionally, many physicians are on the edge of their seats because a scheduled decrease in Medicare payments could prevent them from providing vital healthcare services. Furthermore, an automatic $109 billion worth of domestic and defense spending cuts triggered by an earlier budgetary agreement is scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2013. 

Our gridlocked Congress’ past struggles to compromise on important issues have already resulted in a credit agency downgrade, volatile global financial markets, the threat of government shutdown and a loss of Americans’ trust in government. Lawmakers need to learn from the past and address these pending issues, regardless of the politics of an election year.

There is too much at stake to let partisanship stop us from taking action on these important issues.  I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will do the right thing and move forward in a bipartisan manner to extend the student loan interest rates and ensure that the policies due for consideration will not threaten our country’s economic recovery and prosperity. This is America, and we are better than that.

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