All Articles Tagged "Congress"

The Senate Finally Does Something! New Bill Will Roll Back Student Loan Interest Rates

July 25th, 2013 - By Tonya Garcia
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The Senate has passed a bill that will roll back student interest rates to 3.9 percent. The rates had doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 after Congress was unable to reach an agreement. The new figures will affect subsidized Stafford loans with undergrads getting the 3.9 percent rate, graduate students getting a 5.4 percent rate, and parents receiving a 6.4 percent rate.

Before we get too happy, we have to remember that everything Congress does these days comes with some bit of news that’ll make us suck our teeth. In this case, liberals didn’t like the fact that the rates are tied to the U.S. Treasury 10-year borrowing rate rather than being a fixed percentage set by Congress. So there’s a much higher cap on these interest rates, according to USA Today: “8.25% for undergraduates, 9.5% for graduates, and 10.5% for parents.” The bill passed 81-18 and is expected to make it through the House of Representatives.

“An effort by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to put tighter interest rates caps on student loans was… rejected.,” the paper adds.

A statement from the White House expressed their support along with that of the President. House Speaker and spray tan lover John Boehner took a moment on his blog to talk about the similarities between what passed and what the GOP supported. A bipartisan agreement takes from the ideas of both sides of the discussion, so he shouldn’t be quite so far up on that high horse, but OK fine. As long as new borrowers get some relief.

HBCUs still have a fight on their hands as changes to student loan standards have greatly impacted their schools and their students. Changes in eligibility that affect students who need more financial help have the schools seeking legal recourse to turn things around.

A study published last month shows that among adults, “19.6 percent have student loans and 57 percent are concerned about repayment.” Moreover, many people with student loan debt don’t even have a degree, indicating that they’re not finishing their degree studies.

“Hispanics and African Americans are about twice as likely to carry student-loan debt: 34 percent of blacks and 28 percent of Hispanics have it, compared with 16 percent of whites and 19 percent Asians,” adds CBS MoneyWatch.

The Student Loan Crisis: Celebrities Are Speaking On The Issue, But Is Congress Listening?

July 12th, 2013 - By Blair Bedford
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Since the onset of the recession, the national student loan debt among current and former college students has climbed to over $1 trillion dollars, surpassing credit and auto loan debts in 2012, says The Washington Post. With this grim statistic, the debt crisis from student loans is continuously making headlines, leaving many college students across all generations worried about their financial well-being and baffled at Congress’ inaction. On July 1, student loan interest rates doubled. When given the opportunity to put the lower 3.4 percent interest rate back in place on Wednesday, the measure failed because of a “procedural hurdle.” At this point, we can only hope that Congress will take another look at a short-term reduction and long-term strategy before the break in August.

The rising debt toll has prompted an outcry among former college students, current students, politicians and some celebrities, concerned with the impact of this growing financial and economic issue will have on the nation as a whole.

US Weekly magazine reported on stars like actress Scarlett Johansson and fellow actress Kerry Washington, who spoke out on the student loan debt crisis and more at last year’s Democratic National Convention in September. At 28 years old, actress Scarlett Johansson expressed her concern for the welfare of her generation, who are now facing issues like affordable health care and the debt that has crippled many young Americans looking to build a stable future with their college education.

“I’m here not just as an actress but as a woman, an African-American, a granddaughter of Ellis Island immigrants, a person who could not have afforded college without the help of student loans,” Washington proclaimed last year during the DNC.

Other celebrities who have shed light on the issue via their outlets on social media and on television include Think Like A Man actor Romany Malco, comedienne and actress Roseanne Barr, famous financial guru Suze Orman, MMA fighter Gerald Harris, TV One news analyst Roland Martin and others.

Although celebrities are advocating for the temporary fixes to remain permanent, Congress is still pegging students in the middle of this crucial debate, even as the average college loan debt rises to about $30,000, as reported by Generation Opportunity.

With even celebrities flexing their star power and standing up for the crisis that faces nearly 40 million Americans, this current economic dilemma needs to be a major priority to Congress and other leaders at the forefront of this issue. As former and current college students in America, we need to demand more productivity from Congress to ensure that this looming debt bubble is being noticed politically and economically, as it spans across generations. Without a proper and concrete plan of action nationally, the traditional “American dream” will soon become only a daydream for many. The hefty college loan debt crisis will be a rude awakening to young people heading out into the world and their adult lives.

Parents Disapprove Of Their Kids Pursing A Career In Politics

July 8th, 2013 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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Politicians have a reputation for being mostly deceitful with a bit of work in government policy thrown in. No surprise perhaps that parents just don’t want their children involved in such a murky field. A new survey finds that 64 percent of Americans would cringe if their son or daughter attempted to become a politician, Gallup reports.

Only one-third of Americans would approve of their children pursuing a career in politics, the poll says. For the past 20 years, the fluctuation in the percentages has been minimal. In 1993, 61 percent disfavored a political career for their kids while only 32 percent approved.

The survey tried to get a sense of whether parents preferred a particular sex to become politicians, but the percentage remained the same between both girls and boys; only 31 percent approved politics for both their sons and daughters. Even 20 years ago, there was no significant difference between the percentage of males or females whose parents approved of a political career.

When it comes to race, however, the Gallup poll found there was a substantial difference. The survey says that 42 percent and 45 percent of non-White respondents wanted to see their son and daughter in politics, respectively. In opposition, only 26 percent and 25 percent of Whites approved a political career for their son or daughter. The explanation behind this difference may be due to the prominent number of non-Whites affiliated with the Democratic Party. As Gallup has previously reported, there is “slight tendency for Democrats to favor a political career…than Republicans,” says Gallup.

The overall low desirability for a political occupation stems from a lack of “trust in government” and lowered “confidence in political institutions, particularly Congress, ” Gallup explains. As MN recently reported, a recent poll suggests that America only has a 10 percent approval rating of the House and Senate. Gallup has frequently found that Americans would rather their children pursue a career in medicine and technology.

This study was based on 2,048 telephone interviews with adults over the age of 18 living in all 50 states.

Americans Are Fed-Up With Congress, Approval Ratings Reach Historic Low

July 3rd, 2013 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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A new poll shows that Americans have grown sick and tired of Congress’ antics. As MN reported on Monday, student loan interest rates have nearly doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent after Congress failed to reach a decision to keep the current rates. In pulling such an irresponsible move, it’s no wonder that Congress’ popularity as reached a historic low of 10 percent, reports MSNBC.

A recent poll was conducted by Gallup to discover, out of 16 institutions, which one Americans approved the most. Congress fell flat with only a 10 percent approval rating; this is down three percentage points from last year. The military, small businesses and the police garnered the highest ratings of confidence from the public.

With unpopular decisions on gun control, background checks, and raising the minimum wage, Congress is completely out of sync with American opinion. Fifty-seven percent of Americans want a ban on assault weapons, but Congress is not on the same page. A whopping 91 percent of Americans favored a universal background check, but the House and Senate could not come to an agreement. About 71 percent of the public wants the minimum wage raised to $9 an hour, but Congress and the American public could not see eye-to-eye.

Previously, when either Republicans or Democrats had a greater grip in the legislative branch, members of that party would “express greater confidence” in Congress, says US News. For instance, in the early 2000s, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, so, of course, Republican voters approved of Congress more than Democrats  In 2007, Democrats favored Congress when they regained control. Now, the survey shows a rare time in which all parties, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, are united in their disapproval in Congress’ performance this year.

The Washington Post adds that “just 12 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of political independents hold confidence in Congress—a near tie.”

Since 1973, Gallup has been recording Congressional approval ratings. It was only in 1986 that Congress reached its highest approval rating at 41 percent when Ronald Reagan was president, the Post adds.

In a comical national poll released earlier this year, Americans preferred lice (67 percent) over Congress (19 percent) and root canals (56 percent) over than Washington (32 percent).

Student Loan Rates Double As Congress Fails To Reach A Deal

July 1st, 2013 - By Tonya Garcia
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The interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford student loans increases today from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent after Congress failed to reach a deal to maintain current rates. Democrats have said that they want to keep the interest rate low to help low- and middle-income students. Republicans have pushed to make the interest rates meet the 10-year Treasury notes. According to Fox News, Democrats have said that the Senate will consider voting on a yearlong extension on July 10, following the July 4 holiday. House Republicans say they would prefer a long-term solution. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators tells CNNMoney that they’re telling students to settle into this higher rate.

The new rates only apply to new loans. But any deal could be retroactive. There’s hope that a compromise will be reached before the end of the summer when the number of loans jumps up with the beginning of the school year.

Young people, more than ever, are saddled with high amounts of student loan debt and few employment options. CNNMoney notes that it’s the second largest debt adults carry these days behind their mortgage. As of 2011, the average student loan debt was $27,000. For many people, the debt has become a hindrance, stopping consumers from purchasing houses, buying a car, or starting a family because they can’t afford it. Experts who spoke with USA Today said that the key is to graduate with a manageable amount of debt, a figure that doesn’t exceed the first year’s annual income. Others said the shifts that could occur because of the heavy debt load could have dramatic social implications.

Former Miss America Erika Harold Announces Her Plans To Run for Congress

June 5th, 2013 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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via Erika Harold for Congress on Facebook

via Erika Harold for Congress on Facebook

She’s ditching her sparkly evening gown and dazzling crown to wear a newly-polished suit: Miss America 2003 Erika Harold is running for the House of Representatives on the Republican ticket. She is opposing Rep. Rodney Davis in the primary, reports the East Central Illinois News-Gazette.

The 33-year-old wants to convince skeptics that her position as Miss America has prepared her for the grueling and arduous work of campaigning and representing the 13th Congressional District. She says she’s used to the national spotlight and even butted heads with the national organization behind the Miss America competition. If it were not for the flack she received, Harold believes she would not have had the tough skin to overcome the tribulations that may come her way.

“I think those experiences did prepare and equip me to handle this stage,” she said.

Despite knowing the cruel character of politics, Harold insists that her campaign for Congress against Davis will be fair. She simply wants to put her best foot forward in convincing voters she would be the best representative for Illinois. It is not her intention “to try and destroy [Davis] personally.”

Despite her stated Miss America qualifications, many are wondering what makes her qualified to take on such a taxing political arena. Harold graduated from Harvard Law and has used Miss America as a platform to pursue a desire to dabble in politics. According to her campaign website, she wants to show that her ability to perform lies not in her history in politics, but her helping hand for the community.

She has defended religious liberty as a lawyer, fought against youth violence and bullying, and she is seeking to further continue her services for Illinois, a report from Politico says. Harold has also advocated for lower taxes and limited government intervention, a report from Jezebel states.

She might very well have a shot at winning. She and faced Davis in the last election and the result was the closest race of any Republican representative voted into Congress, according to Politico. Harold is taking advantage of this narrow margin and might take the crown of Illinois’ next Republican congresswoman.

Sworn In For Illinois: Robin Kelly Replaces Jesse Jackson Jr. In Congress

April 12th, 2013 - By Ann Brown
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Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

It’s official. Former Illinois State Rep. Robin Kelly was sworn in earlier this week as the newest member of the House, taking over the seat held for 17 years by disgraced Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr.

Kelly easily won in a special-election held last Tuesday, defeating her Republican opponent in the heavily Democratic 2nd District, which includes part of Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, reports The Huffington Post.

In remarks made after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) administered the oath of office, Kelly reemphasized her commitment to fighting gun violence, passing immigration reform, creating jobs and improving the health care system. With the addition of Kelly, the makeup in the House became 232 Republicans, 201 Democrats, and two vacancies.

Kelly’s campaign was not without controversy.  Her campaign received $2 million in backing from the political action committee of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading gun-control supporter, writes HuffPo. Some accused Bloomberg of unfairly trying to influence the Chicago race.

“I look forward to working with you to protect our children from criminals and protect our Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens, because we should and can do both,” she said on the House floor after taking the oath of office.

Kelly also requested that Vice President Joe Biden travel to Capitol Hill to preside over a second swearing-in ceremony.

Jackson, who is the son of human rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, resigned in November after citing health concerns. He also pleaded guilty in February to spending $750,000 in campaign money on personal expenses.

Obama Budget Proposal Seeks Compromise With Spending Cuts In Some Areas, Increases In Others

April 10th, 2013 - By Tonya Garcia
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President Obama speaking at a White House performance last night focused on Memphis Soul Music. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama speaking at a White House performance last night focused on Memphis Soul Music. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The big political news today is President Obama’s latest budget proposal, a $3.77 billion plan that would be put into effect for fiscal year 2014, which starts October 1. Given the continuous battle back and forth between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, The Wall Street Journal sums up the goal of the proposal as such: “Obama Reaches For Middle Ground With New Budget Plan.”

“The White House will seek to persuade Republicans to warm to its proposal to embrace more short-term spending, which administration officials say will boost jobs, while also locking in medium-term tax and spending changes to reduce the deficit,” the article says. “So far, the White House has found such an approach a tough sell, with Republicans opposing tax increases and saying much of the spending is wasteful.” Overall, the article says, the spending budget is up six percent to counteract the sequestration spending cuts (remember those?) that went into effect March 1.

At the start of the fiscal year, The New York Times explains, “the federal deficit would be $744 billion, according to administration officials. That would be equal to about 4.4 percent of the gross domestic product, down from a high of about 10 percent at the height of the recession. By decade’s end, the annual deficit would be 1.7 percent, officials said, though deficits would increase thereafter as aging baby boomers drive up costs for federal benefit programs.” The 10-year plan would cut spending by $1.2 billion and would raise $580 million by pulling more taxes from the wealthy, including the imposition of the Buffet Rule, which would  take 30 percent from anyone making a taxable income over $1 million.

The spending and taxes included in the proposal aren’t to the Republicans’ liking, who still want to see the federal budget decrease. What has riled Democrats are the proposed cuts to future Social Security benefits.

But there will be additional spending. Infrastructure is a priority in the budget, as is expanding prekindergarten education. And in response to calls from people across the political spectrum following the massacre in Newtown, CT, $235 million has been allotted for mental health programs. The money would pay to train teachers and other professionals to better detect the warning signs of mental illness in students, to provide in-school professional mental health services, and to help schools that have a high level of violence, according to The Washington Post. The paper says that mental health advocates are pleased with the attention, but note the billions of dollars in cuts that have been made across states over the past few years.

President Obama will be having dinner with prominent Congressional Republicans this evening in the hopes of talking through a compromise. Meanwhile, Congress could vote this week on gun control measures. The two sides seem to be ready to compromise on issues like universal background checks, says CNN.

Legally, President Obama Can Create a $1 Trillion Platinum Coin To Solve Our Debt Ceiling Problem

January 8th, 2013 - By Tonya Garcia
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Perhaps a trillion-dollar coin would help lawmakers avoid more uncomfortable discussions like this one from the fiscal cliff debacle. Rex Features via AP Images

Perhaps a trillion-dollar coin would help lawmakers avoid more uncomfortable discussions like this one from the fiscal cliff debacle. Rex Features via AP Images

So have you heard this bit of craziness?

There are those suggesting that President Obama bypass any economic default from the looming debt ceiling fiasco (and make no mistake, the Congressional discussion will turn into a fiasco) by whipping up a few trillion-dollar coins. In so doing, President Obama will bypass Republicans who promise to cause a problem.

Among those saying he should do this Princeton professor, author, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who dedicated his article yesterday to this idea. Apparently, there’s a legal loophole that would allow the Treasury to make any denomination of coin in platinum. According to Krugman, this would allow the President to make this $1 trillion coin request, deposit it into the Federal Reserve, and avoid the debt ceiling discussion without any terrible financial repercussions. LOL… This is genius.

Krugman writes:

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to force America into default? Yes, absolutely. He will, after all, be faced with a choice between two alternatives: one that’s silly but benign, the other that’s equally silly but both vile and disastrous. The decision should be obvious.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, this isn’t anything that has come from the White House directly, but could be a point of dicussion if some clever member of the press asks the question. And Forbes suggests that instead of one huge trillion-dollar coin, a few coins of lower denomination would be preferable. Maybe $25 billion a pop? All of it would be perfectly fine according to the guy who wrote the law, former Mint director Philip Diehl.

To pre-empt this (and ruin all of our fun), Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) has said that he’s prepared to introduce a bill that would make minting platinum coins for the purpose of paying down government debt illegal. “This scheme to mint trillion dollar platinum coins is absurd and dangerous, and would be laughable if the proponents weren’t so serious about it as a solution,” CBS News quotes from a statement issued by Rep. Walden. It’s like trying to kill a fly with a blowtorch as it’s highly unlikely that the President will actually propose this.

Oh well, it was a thought. After the jump, Stephen Colbert breaks it down. Comically.

Your Taxes Aren’t Going Up, But the Economic Fight In Congress Will Continue

January 2nd, 2013 - By Tonya Garcia
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President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden by his side, speaking at a press conference last night following passage of the tax legislation. Rex Features via AP Images

President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden by his side, speaking at a press conference last night following passage of the tax legislation. Rex Features via AP Images

Past deadline and kind of grudgingly, the House of Representatives passed legislation last night that will avoid big tax increases on the middle class, stopping our fall down the fiscal cliff. You’ll remember that technically, this was supposed to happen before January 1. But better late than never right? (Wrong, but OK.)

The margin for passage was 257 to 167; 85 Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and former Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan voted in favor, The New York Times reports. However, Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (VA) and the number three Representative from California, Kevin McCarthy, did not. The Senate approved the legislation the day before by a margin of 89 to 8, and there was some fear that the House was going to let it die amid amendments and debate. A rejection of the legislation would’ve meant not only a rejection of something that the Democrats and President Obama largely supported, but also a rejection of House Speaker Boehner and the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who played a big role in crafting the legislation. (The Speaker already had one of his proposals voted down by his fellow Republicans.) Many policy experts and pundits on Twitter argued that if the deal hadn’t passed, the Republicans would take the blame. Even with the legislation’s passage, there are many who say this process will reflect poorly on the Republicans in the long run.

For the first time in 20 years, income taxes on the wealthiest will rise. Those individuals with an income over $400,000 and families with an income over $450,000 will pay more taxes. The tax cuts for those below that level are permanent. Payroll taxes, however, will increase. Politico has a breakdown of how that will impact your paycheck, via the AP and the Tax Policy Center. A sample:

Annual income: $40,000 to $50,000 — Average tax increase: $579 … Annual income: $50,000 to $75,000 — Average tax increase: $822 … Annual income: $75,000 to $100,000 — Average tax increase: $1,206 …

Unemployment benefits will also continue for two million people who were at risk of losing them. And spending cuts that were supposed to start today have been put off until March. “Conservatives complained bitterly that the legislation would raise taxes without making any significant cuts in government spending,” The Washington Post says. We’ve also avoided the dairy cliff, so go ahead and keep on drinking milk America!

During a press conference last night with Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama said the legislation will result in $620 billion in revenue for the country. But in just two short months, the fight will be on again as Congress discusses raising the debt ceiling (a debate that had everyone on edge in 2011) and sequestration, aka spending cuts.

There are also concerns that with these fights looming, the President won’t be able to address some of the other important issues that need to be tackled, like immigration, gun violence, and other changes to the tax code.

“Others are more optimistic, though, suggesting that even contentious issues such as immigration won’t be as politically perilous as raising taxes. Rewriting immigration laws is a complex task, but many Republicans and Democrats are motivated to pass legislation in an effort to appeal to the growing number of Hispanic voters,” writes The Wall Street Journal.