Tracking the Bills — Student Loans and Medicare

In order to track legislation in Congress, you can use this handy tool provided by the Library of Congress called Thomas. You can input either the name of the bill or the number using the provided boxes. This will bring you to a temporary page with the text of the bill.

Reverse the Raid on Student Aid — H.R. 5150

“Reverse the Raid on Student Aid” appears to be a fairly straightforward piece of legislation, as you can see by reading the short and sweet text. One thing I would worry about is banks and other loan agents tacking on various fees in order to make up for the loss of income from interest rates. Seems like a provision to keep this from happening might be a good idea to beef up this bill.

Medicare — Saving for our Seniors — H.R. 6281

This is a much more complex piece of legislation, and I admit I have not even read the entire text myself. (Now I know what I’ll be doing in my spare moments.) The overall point of the first section is a “MEDICARE OPERATED PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLAN OPTION” which means that Medicare would be able to negotiate drug prices. Many of the other provisions of the bill seem to be aimed at providing more help for low-income seniors.

On the issue of student loans, here is a short history from US Public Interest Research Group:

Higher education in America continues to be critical for both individual success and the economic and political health of our country. While college attendance has grown over the past two decades, state and federal aid has failed to keep pace with the rising cost of higher education. As a result, more students than ever must rely on student loans to pay for a four-year degree and start their post-collegiate lives with significant debt.

Over the past two decades undergraduate student loans have supplanted grant aid as the primary way students finance their college education. In 1999-2000, the average student loan debt for a full-time student at a four-year institution was $16,928, up from $9,188 in 1992-93. An increased reliance on student loans has resulted in a growing number of debt-ridden graduates entering the workforce. In 2004, two-thirds of all four-year college graduates left school with student debt. Student loan debt can limit post-collegiate career options like teaching and social work. In the most extreme cases, burdensome debt can lead some students to default, resulting in wage garnishment and ruined credit.

In February [2006], Congress passed the largest cut to higher education in the history of federal student aid. This “raid on student aid� took approximately $12 billion out of the federal student loan programs to help finance additional tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans.

For a counterpoint on this issue, there is this editorial by Tim Fitzpatrick, CEO of Sallie Mae, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 22, 2006. In case you’re concerned about bias and self-interest in the opinion of the CEO of Sallie Mae, you might want to check out this CBS special. Leslie Stahl reports on how Sallie Mae makes money coming and going on student loans.

On the issue of Medicare Part D drugs, I refer to Families USA which provides this page, which provides information on the program coming from The Kaiser Foundation, Consumer Reports, and others. For a counterpoint, you can read the US News and World Report story linked to in this previous post.

Update: According to this report from MSNBC, there will now be an effort to pass the student loan legislation without Republican input, despite earlier statements from Democrats about allowing Republicans to have a voice.

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