All Articles Tagged "Congress"

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.

If We Go Over the Fiscal Cliff, African Americans Would Experience a Hard Landing

December 6th, 2012 - By Tonya Garcia
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Speaker Boehner and the President actually talking to each other back in March for St. Patrick’s Day. (Hence, the green ties.) AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The latest on the fiscal cliff talks indicate that House Republicans are joining forces around Speaker John Boehner, a rare occurrence over the past couple of years. The New York Times says this should make it easier for him to get a caucus on board to sign off on a deal. But these politicians are really on some stuff so you never know. (Case in point: Republicans voted against a UN treaty strengthening rights for the disabled even though it fell in line with laws that we’ve had in place for decades. Jon Stewart’s awesome take down here.)

But, the Times says, Republicans met yesterday, and came out of it with praise for Boehner. Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor even joined in the fun.

“Mr. Cantor signed on this week to Mr. Boehner’s package including $800 billion in new revenue, putting him squarely on the same page with the speaker,” the paper says. “Several Republicans said Wednesday that the combination of the onerous nature of the potential tax increases and spending cuts and the realities of the recent election combined to bolster Mr. Boehner’s support.” It only takes near-financial collapse to help them see the light.

Meanwhile, President Obama is keeping the pressure on, hosting a Twitter Q&A to discuss maintaining middle class tax cuts, a continuation of his My2K social media push he started last week. To reach business leaders, he appealed to them directly yesterday (even emptying a room of reporters to do so) asking them to accept higher taxes and vowing not to allow Republicans to use debt ceiling negotiations for leverage. “I will not play that game,” he said unequivocally. He has also met with business leaders at the White House and appeared on Bloomberg TV to talk about the issue, Politico reports.

The Atlantic has some great pie charts that break down the different plans for avoiding the fiscal cliff. A little dry, but it’s important to be in the know. (Separately and kind of not related, one of the people behind the Bowles-Simpson plan, 81-year-old former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, is pushing young people to get behind a deficit reduction push on social media with this video below, which has some serious LOL. h/t Mashable)

While all of this politicking is happening, Americans are genuinely worried about what’s going to happen. (Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said that the administration is ready to go over the cliff if an acceptable deal isn’t reached, but that seems premature.) A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows 53 percent of voters believe that falling off the fiscal cliff will personally impact them in a negative way. Forty-eight percent of participants optimisitically believe that an agreement will be reached by the end of the year, ABC News says.

The consequences of not reaching a deal could have grave consequences for the black community. “Spending cuts to domestic programs… would impact African-Americans in more ways than one,” BET reports. “In addition to reductions in programs that some families depend on, such as Head Start, African-Americans, who are overrepresented in public sector jobs, could find themselves on the unemployment line.”

Public sector job cuts have already been a blight on the financial well-being of African Americans, black women in particular. Black Women’s Agenda, a 35-year-old Washington-based nonprofit, has officially thrown its support behind President Obama’s proposal. “”We believe that the President’s proposal best serves the interests of not just the constituencies that we and our collaborating organizations represent, but also the majority of the American people,” said the organization’s president Gwainevere Catchings Hess in a statement.

The Congressional Black Caucus has also thrown its support behind many of the President’s proposals, including an end to tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, implementation of Affordable Care Act, and an extension of unemployment benefits.

The President called in to the Tom Joyner show yesterday to talk about the fiscal cliff, reiterating his points about the pain that allowing ourselves to go over will cause.

“[T]his is a solvable problem,” the President said. “It should not be a crisis.  And the main thing that I need folks to do is just contact your members of Congress and say to people, don’t let middle-class taxes go up right now.  Don’t let working people carry the burden of deficit reduction when millionaires and billionaires aren’t doing their fair share,” reads the EurWeb transcription. Get on the horn with your Congresspeople!


Tech Talk: Will Congress Step Away from Internet Regulation?

November 29th, 2012 - By Kimberly Maul
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Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The past two years have been bumpy ones for the relationship between Congress and Internet regulation, with the introduction and shutting down of SOPA and PIPA, among other things. But Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) hopes to get Congress to “take a break from messing with the Internet” with a proposed new bill.

On November 26, Issa introduced a draft of the Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA), which would “create a two-year moratorium on any new laws, rules or regulations governing the Internet.” And he turned to Reddit, the user-generated news site, on Wednesday to discuss the law and get feedback from Internet users.

“I’m not advocating for no rules or laws on the Internet ever. But it has been made abundantly clear to me, and to a lot of other people, that both legislators and regulators have gone down the road of trying to take actions that impact the Internet without knowing their full effect,” Issa said on Reddit. “This is the case today both domestically and internationally.”

Naturally, not everyone agrees with Issa and there was some backlash on Reddit regarding Issa’s past behavior on Internet regulation laws. According to Gigi Sohn, president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, who spoke to The Hill, “Even if they pass this bill, Congress could pass another Internet regulation bill that would supersede the previous bill.”

Do you think Issa’s bill would have any real impact in Congress? Or is it good protection to keep the status quo of internet regulation in place for a couple more years?

Jesse Jackson Jr. Resigns From Congress Amidst Health Issues And FBI Probe That Could Put Him In Jail

November 21st, 2012 - By Clarke Gail Baines
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AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File

According to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr, son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson of course, has resigned from Congress today. And while he said in a letter that his health is the main reason he will step down since he can’t really be effective as he battles bipolar depression, others think it has more to do with the fact that he is being investigated by the FBI and the House Ethics Committee for the misuse of campaign funds and Congressional allowances. Congressman get an allowance which they can use to “operate offices in Washington and in their districts” according to the Chicago Sun-Times, but we previously reported that reports were saying that Jackson was using his allowance to buy Rolex watches for women friends and to decorate his D.C. home. We also reported that there were rumors of a plea deal in the works that would include his resignation from Congress, and sadly this has occurred, and just weeks after winning re-election for the tenth time. According to CNN, authorities are also looking into allegations that in 2008, someone in Jackson’s camp offered to have Jackson’s team raise money for former Governor Rod Blagojevich, but only if Jackson would be appointed to President Obama’s empty Senate seat.

In his letter of resignation, Jackson did discuss the investigation and said that whatever is found out about him, he will take responsibility for. According to the Chicago Tribune, the letter went something like this:

“I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are my mistakes and mine alone. None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right.”

But as mentioned earlier, Jackson made it clear that it is because of his health, first and foremost, that he is leaving his seat. He’s not admitting any form of guilt, but just owning up to any mistakes:

“My health issues and treatment regimen have become incompatible with service in the House of Representatives. Therefore, it is with great regret that I hereby resign as a member of the United States House of Representatives, effective today, in order to focus on restoring my health…Once the doctors approve my return to work, I will continue to be the progressive fighter you have known for years. My family and I are grateful for your many heartfelt prayers and kind thoughts. I continue to feel better every day and look forward to serving you.”

The 47-year-old has been struggling with an array of health issues (on top of being diagnosed as bipolar, his office said he has also been treated for gastrointestinal issues) for most of the year, and he hadn’t been seen in the House of Representatives since early June. Jackson has had scandal follow him for the past few years his name being tied into the Rod Blagojevich scandal, his most recent investigation into the way he’s spending money monitored by Congress, and past drama with him asking folks to pay for random women to fly to come see him. Whatever is going on, it really is time for Jackson to step down, take care of his health and his probes, the latter which is tarnishing his reputation, and just go get his life back on track.

 Are you surprised that he resigned, or did you see it coming?

Merry Christmas? Unemployment Benefits Could Cease For 2 Million on December 1, Blacks Would Be Hard Hit

November 14th, 2012 - By Ann Brown
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A line for an Oregon job fair. Image: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

According to new reports, two million people could lose unemployment benefits right before Christmas unless Congress extends the benefits program. And African Americans, who have among the still have the highest unemployment rates, will most likely be the hardest hit. Even though unemployment figures for African Americans have improved, 13.4 percent of black workers, or 2.44 million people, remain out of work, according to the Huffington Post. And in New York, black women are the hardest hit.

According to the nonprofit Community Service Society of New York, older women and black workers remained unemployed longest. “Nearly 63 percent of women 55 to 65 were out of work for more than six months last year… Black New Yorkers remained unemployed for an average 47 weeks, more than any other ethnic group,” reports the Uptowner. A Department of Labor report found blacks are less likely to find jobs and tend to stay unemployed for longer periods of time.

If Congress doesn’t act by December 1, Americans who have been out of work longer than six months will no longer receive benefits. Six months is the limit for most state-funded unemployment insurance. In April, another one million people might have their checks curtailed if the program is not renewed.

“We cannot forget the human cliff looming for more than two million Americans scheduled to lose their economic lifeline during the upcoming holidays,” Rep. Sander M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

Congress could have some hurdles in extending the benefits as conservative lawmakers “have raised concerns that continually extending jobless benefits is both an unmanageable burden on the federal budget and a disincentive for people to find work,” reports The Washington Post.

But a coalition of more than 35 groups led by the National Employment Law Project is launching an aggressive campaign to pressure Congress to extend the program.