The House Education and Workforce Committee met over a span of 11 hours on Tuesday as Democrats sought to block approval of a Republican-sponsored bill that Representative Joe Courtney described as taking a “wrecking ball” to higher education.
In the end, Republicans passed their bill 23-17 with no Democrats in support, putting in jeopardy a popular student loan forgiveness program and leaving in place a prohibition on refinance federal student loans to a lower rate.
Courtney had sought to amend the Republican bill to allow for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to continue. About 600,000 borrowers who are employed in eligible federal, state, or local public service jobs or charities are now receiving some loan forgiveness. The Trump Administration has sought to end the program.
“We are seeing basically a wrecking ball being taken to many of the programs that try to deal with the issue of higher education affordability,” Courtney said at the meeting.
North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, the Republican chair of the committee, said that H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, would deliver “serious reforms needed to empower students and families to achieve an essential part of the American dream: earning a high-quality education, finding a good-paying job, and living a successful life.”
Virginia Representative Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the bill “makes college more expensive for millions of students and families by forcing students to borrow more, pay more to borrow more, and pay more to repay student loans.”
In defending the loan forgiveness program, Courtney said that more than 193 organizations have spoken in favor of retaining the public service loan forgiveness program that has its roots in a program President Dwight D. Eisenhower established as part of the space race with Russia following its launch of Sputnik.
“All of us are more than willing to go back in and drill into the program to see if there are ways to improve it. But, wiping it out at a time when we have $1.3 trillion of student loan debt hanging over the U.S. economy — that’s going backwards,” he said.
A second amendment offered by Courtney would have allowed students to refinance federal student loans at lower available rates. The amendment was also rejected.
Sandy Hook Remembered
The fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown was remembered this week on the House and Senate floors.
Representative Elizabeth Esty led an hour-long “special orders” debate Wednesday evening recalling that she was in Boston as a newly elected member of Congress learning about her duties when she heard of the shooting in her district.
“I threw my things in the back of the car and I drove from Boston. I called my mother, I called my minister, and I prayed for wisdom and I prayed for guidance and the courage to face those families,” she said. “I arrived in Newtown while families were being notified that their children who they had put on the bus that morning, thinking about Hanukkah or Christmas or thinking about the snow that was already on the ground, would never come home.”
Esty said it is “sad” and “inexcusable” that five years later she stands in the House chamber where no action has been taken to address gun safety. “In those five years, 170,000 Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. Think about that — 170,000,” she said.
Senator Chris Murphy spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday to memorialize “those beautiful children whose lives were cut far too short” and to focus on the “miracles” — big and small — that have occurred to those affected in and around Newtown.
“Very few people understand the kind of crippling pain that comes with this loss. And while these families will never be the same, they have found ways to rebound. They have found ways to still capture joy in their lives. Some have added to their numbers by welcoming new children into their family since then. They have rediscovered passions. They have made sure that the surviving children, the siblings, have been able to live lives of optimism rather than live lives of perpetual fear,” he said.
Murphy said that there has also been an outpouring of charity “almost too numerable to mention” from the tragedy from scholarships to book donations to therapy dogs.
“I hope that my friends here will celebrate these small but meaningful miracles that have happened over the last five years, and I hope that you will be reminded that we cannot take one day or one moment for granted,” he said.
• Associated Press reporter Pat Eaton-Robb reports on the Newtown charitable works here.
• The Danbury News Times also offers up this editorial.
• And, watch singer Sheryl Crow’s video, “The Dreaming King,” to commemorate the fifth anniversary.
Net Neutrality Repealed
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules. The decision will allow internet service providers to control the speed, or even block, access to specific websites.
Connecticut lawmakers, who had encouraged a grassroots campaign against the proposal, were quick to speak out.
Senator Richard Blumenthal went to the Senate floor to complain about the decision that was supported by Republican members of the FCC.
“The FCC has recklessly and needlessly repealed rules that have kept the playing field level, and defined the success of our current internet economy. This action has made a mockery of consumer protection at the expense of our economy. It will disastrously disadvantage small businesses. It threatens the internet’s incredible success and persistent innovation,” Blumenthal said.
Representative John Larson issued a statement calling the action a “step backwards for consumer protections” and predicted that it would dampen innovation and growth.
“In a time when access to broadband has become an essential part of our everyday lives, we should be looking for ways to improve access to an open internet for all instead of walking backwards,” he said.
Larson wants Congress to take up legislation to restore net neutrality.
• The Washington Post has more on the FCC decision.
• CTNewsJunkie contributor Terry Cowgill also opined about Net Neutrality today.
• Dan Kennedy of WGBH sees repeal serving to Cripple the First Amendment.
Himes Speaks Against Iran Bill
On the House floor this week, Representative Jim Himes spoke against passage of legislation to impose certification requirements on the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran that he says could jeopardize the Iran Nuclear deal.
The Strengthening Oversight of Iran’s Access to Finance Act was approved 252-167 with the Republican majority largely in support.
Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the Financial Services Committee, described the bill as a simple reporting measure “nothing more, nothing less” that brings “into the sunlight” concerns with one of the provisions of the Iran Nuclear deal in which the Obama administration committed the U.S. to license the sale of aircraft to Iran.
“The recipient of these aircraft would be Iran Air, the state-owned airline that was sanctioned as recently as 2011 for supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which itself has been designated by the Trump administration as a terrorist organization,” Hensarling said.
Himes disagreed saying the bill could jeopardize the entire Iran nuclear deal because it would impose conditions on the sale and financing of the commercial passenger aircrafts beyond what is required under the agreement.
“It is not a stretch — in fact, it is fairly clear — that if H.R. 4324 were to pass, the Iranians and others could credibly claim that we have violated our obligations under the JCPOA,” Himes said. “This bill puts the Iran nuclear deal at risk.”
Himes went on to say that he understands the skepticism on Iran calling it “an absolutely appalling regime.” But, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, he said that since the Iran deal was struck “we don’t go to bed every single night worrying about the possibility of waking up to a nuclear-weaponized Iran.”
“Why would we put that at risk?” he asked.
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Mark Your Calendar
HOLIDAY FAMILY DINNER FOR LGBT+ YOUTH & YOUNG ADULTS AND FRIENDS (13-23) – A warm, festive, and fully accepting holiday dinner with a group of moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins who extend our holiday love to you as if you were our own family. Saturday, Dec. 16, 6-8 p.m. at First Congregational Church of West Haven, 1 Church Street, West Haven. More info and RSVP
THE PERILS AND PROMISES – A ONE-DAY SYMPOSIUM on the education of Black, Latino, and Poor Children in Connecticut, including guest speaker Jabar Shumate, Vice President, University of Oklahoma, and a solution-oriented panel discussion titled “Meeting Kids Where They Are,” Saturday, Dec. 16, 8 a.m.-2:15 p.m., Capitol Community College, 950 Main St., Hartford, CT. More info and RSVP