“Dr. No” Got the Message

Roughly a year ago, when local lobbying was at its height for the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, the bill’s co-sponsors tried to pass it by unanimous consent.  With more co-sponsors than any Africa-related legislation in modern American history, it was a good idea.  And then Tom Coburn stepped in.  Known for blocking everything that costs more than a penny for Congress, Coburn had decided that the LRA bill would be one of his many stands.  He he blocked a bill with bipartisan support from the country at large, including his state’s senior senator , and thousands of his constituents.  Needless to say, grassroots organizing got a move on.  Quite a few of my friends, from across the country, held a vigil in front of his Oklahoma City office 24/7 until he took the hold off.  All told, the vigil lasted eleven days before a deal was reached, and the bill passed the Senate the next day.

Dr. Coburn was in the news again this past week for being one of the more vocal opponents to the 9/11 health bill.  The bill would have compensated a number of first responders who were suffering from health problems related to 9/11 and the rescue efforts that followed in the rubble.  After Jon Stewart hosted a number of first responders on his show to call out opponents, the general populace started getting up in arms about it (including Rudy Guiliani and Mike Huckabee).  After all the uproar, Coburn finally decided to give in (after bringing down some costs, obviously).

I’m all for being careful with money and watching where the government spends money, but Coburn has gone to the extreme. He also blocked aid to Haiti after the earthquake there, among other hot topic blocks.  It seems like he always needs a level of shame before he’ll back down.  I hope he gets smarter about where he chooses to put his foot down in the future. It’d make government work a little better, which – according to Coburn – has been his intention all along.

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Why SAFRA is Important

As I type this, I am watching the Health Care debate in the House.  Today, the House will be voting on budget reconciliation.  To most, this is a healthcare vote.  For quite a while, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act was considered for budget reconciliation.  Instead of leaving it in the dust for healthcare reform, it has been attached for reconciliation and may (probably will) pass today.  Now, my opinion on the health care reform bill is a little iffy. I like parts and I dislike parts.  But I’m all for SAFRA and here is why:

SAFRA would increase the number of Pell grants and amount of Pell grants to students.  Especially with the current crisis in higher education, Pell grants just don’t cut it.  They need to be greater in size and in distribution.  SAFRA does this.  It also caps interest rates on Stafford loans, something that hasn’t yet become an issue but will in coming years.

In addition to this type of assistance to students, there is also good news for our budget.  By dropping subsidies for loan companies, SAFRA could save tens of billions of dollars.  This will be done by cutting out a very costly middleman in favor of direct loans.  In my opinion, there aren’t a lot of negatives for this piece of legislation.  It will help students in a time when higher education is being hit from all sides.  SAFRA is a step in the right direction.