We Can’t Wait: Student Loan Reform

President Obama just took two serious steps to make life a lot easier for folks with student loans—and there’s a good chance you or someone you know will benefit from these changes very soon.

Here’s how:

—Effective this January, if you’re someone who has different kinds of loans—guaranteed and direct—you’ll be able to roll them both into one direct loan and bring down your interest rate. You’ll only have to write one check a month—and you’ll see a discount. This switch saves money for taxpayers across the board, and it helps pay for the second step the President announced today.

—You might remember that, as part of last year’s student loan reform, borrowers’ loan payments could be no higher than 10 percent of their disposable income. This is a big deal—but it wasn’t going to go into effect until 2014. Today, the President announced that he’s speeding up this program so it will affect students next year—two years early. This will have huge consequences for people struggling to make their student loan payments.

Sometimes, it can be hard to see how these policy changes will actually affect your day-to-day life. Not the case with this one. Whether you’re a student, a mom or dad, one of these almost certainly helps you.

President Obama isn’t waiting on Congress to take action. He’s doing everything in his power, right now, to help bolster our economy and get folks back on their feet.

On Monday, he laid out new rules on federal mortgages to help make sure more families don’t lose their homes to foreclosure. On Tuesday, he issued two executive orders to help veterans find work. Today, it means making changes that make student loans a lot easier to manage.

These are actions that can’t wait on the next vote or the next election. So long as people are struggling, this President and this administration will do everything in their power to help them when and where they can. It’s just that simple. Now, let’s make sure that the millions of people who stand to benefit from today’s steps know about it.

Watch the video to learn more about today’s student loan changes—and then help get the word out.

Making College More Affordable

From investing in Pell Grants to supporting the American Opportunity Tax Credit, President Obama and his administration have worked to make college more affordable for more students and their families. Now, the President is taking the next step by making it easier for students to repay federal student loans. Here are just a few of the ways the President’s executive order today will help millions of current and future students:

  • In 2010, President Obama proposed an income-based repayment plan will allow those with student loans to cap their monthly payments at 15% of their income. Starting July 1, 2014, that limit will be reduced to 10% of discretionary income.
  • The President recently announced a new “Pay as You Earn” proposal that will make these benefits available to some borrowers as early as 2012—reducing monthly payments for more than 1.6 million students.
  • Beginning in January 2012, the Department of Education will reach out to borrowers with both guaranteed and direct loans to allow those borrowers to consolidate their loans into one monthly payment—resulting in a discount and reducing their risk of default.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education are working together to launch a new “Know Before You Owe” project to help students better understand and compare financial aid packages from different colleges and universities. This initiative will help make sure students and their families have all the resources they need to make an informed financial decision before choosing a college.

For more information on these programs, visit the White House blog.

We Can’t Wait: Jobs for Veterans

Military medics are on the front lines everyday saving lives; they are the battlefield’s first responders. Yet many military medics who want to work as nurses, physician assistants or in other health care jobs when they leave the military, are often not given credit or credentials for the skills they developed while serving.

The Obama Administration has announced two new initiatives to help create jobs for veterans. The announcement is one in a series of Executive actions that will help put Americans back to work and strengthen the economy.

Hiring 8,000 Veterans in Three Years: The Community Health Center Veterans Hiring Challenge
Tuesday, the Obama Administration challenged Community Health Centers to hire 8,000 veterans – approximately one veteran per health center site – over the next three years. The health reform law provides funding for community health centers to serve more Americans and hire more workers. Additionally, HHS will ask centers to start reporting on the number of veterans that they employ. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs will work together to connect veterans to the health clinics’ job openings. The National Association of Community Health Centers will also contribute to this effort and joined the Administration in announcing this Community Health Center Veterans Hiring Challenge.

Health centers improve the health of the nation and assure access to quality primary health care services at more than 8,000 service delivery sites around the country. They are also an integral source of local employment and economic growth in many underserved and low-income communities. Thanks in part to support from the Affordable Care Act, since the beginning of 2009, health centers across the country have added more than 18,600 new full-time positions in many of the nation’s most economically distressed communities. In 2010, they employed more than 131,000 staff, including veterans who serve as Physician Assistants, Administrators, Pharmacy Directors, outreach workers, eligibility assistance workers, and patient support staff and health center CEOs. Veterans who are committed to serving their country and their communities are well suited to serve in a number of capacities at community health centers.

Helping Veterans Become Physician Assistants
To fast-track medics into jobs in community health centers and other parts of the health care system, today the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) pledged to open up career-paths beyond nursing and expand opportunities for veterans to become physician assistants. Through this initiative, HRSA will begin to give priority in physician assistant grant awards to universities and colleges that help train veterans for careers as physician assistants. Through the Affordable Care Act, Recovery Act, and appropriations in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, $45 million has been invested to support accredited physician assistant training programs. Currently, there are 57 active physician assistant training grants.

To expand the number of training programs that accommodate veterans, the Administration also will identify model programs that offer expedited curricula for veterans and that offer enhanced veteran recruiting, retention, and mentoring services. The initiative will engage all physician assistant programs in learning how to replicate these models so that programs across the country can create better training and career pathways for veterans. HRSA will start by providing technical assistance to more than 21 institutions beginning the week of Veterans Day. These institutions represent those with active veteran programs who can share best practices and strategize for further outreach to the 159 accredited physician assistants programs across the country, extending the reach beyond those that receive HRSA funds.

The physician assistant profession has a long history of working with the military. Some of the first physician assistants were members of the military who used their considerable medical training during their military service to help meet health care needs at home. Today, physician assistants are an important part of the health care workforce who practice as part of a team with physicians and provide services such as physicals, basic emergency care, counseling and follow-up care. They deliver care in nearly one in ten visits to community health centers. There are about 81,000 physician assistants in the U.S.

President Obama’s Commitment to Veterans
Today’s initiatives build on the President’s commitment to create a 21st century health care workforce. Thanks to the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act and ongoing appropriations, we are on a path to add thousands of primary care practitioners to the system through enhanced training and support for health care workers. Since 2008, Recovery Act and Affordable Care Act funding has led to a near tripling of the National Health Service Corps to over 10,000. The Recovery Act also supported the training of 5,124 students to join the health information technology workforce, helping to lower health care costs by reducing paperwork.

The Obama Administration has also taken a series of steps to help create jobs for veterans and reduce veteran unemployment:

  • On October 19, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that the American Logistics Association (ALA) and their 270 affiliate companies have committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. This commitment is part of the First Lady’s and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative to support veterans and military families. The ALA’s commitment will fulfill a quarter of the President’s challenge to the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.
  • President Obama called for a new Returning Heroes Tax Credit for firms that hire unemployed veterans and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit that will increase the existing tax credit for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed long-term.
  • The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, working closely with other agencies and the President’s economic and domestic policy teams, will lead a new task force to develop reforms to ensure that every member of the service receives the training, education, and credentials they need to transition to the civilian workforce or to pursue higher education. These reforms will include the design of a “Reverse Boot Camp,” which will extend the transition period to give service members more counseling and guidance and leave them career-ready.

October 26: News Roundup

The CBO confirms that the top 1% are getting richer at the expense of the rest of us, CBS reports.

The numbers don’t add up in Rick Perry’s latest incarnation of the regressive “flat tax,” the Washington Post reports, earning the Perry plan three Pinocchio’s.

Rick Perry’s “flat tax” is “incoherent,” the Economist says in it’s analysis of the Republican’s regressive tax plan.

In Ohio Mitt Romney backs a union-busting law that is deeply unpopular with Buckeyes. Romney stopped by a phone bank in Ohio to rally the troops in support of SB 5. The bill was passed by Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich and the state’s GOP legislature earlier this year, and Ohio voters will likely repeal it in a statewide referendum next month. But in one of his strangest and most blatant flip-flops yet, when asked what his position on SB 5 was, Romney claimed he didn’t have one.

In other Mitt Romney flip-flop news, earlier this week in Ohio,  Romney promoted a proposed referendum that would outlaw health care mandates. If passed, the referendum would add an amendment to the state constitution banning federal, state, or local laws requiring participation in a health care system. Although Romney intended to protest the Affordable Care Act, the referendum would also outlaw any bill similar to Romney’s own health care law in Massachusetts—one of the former governor’s signature accomplishments.

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced it would be granting approximately $42 million over three years to 500 community health centers in 44 states across the country including New Mexico, Democracy for New Mexico reports.

Repealing the Affordable Health Care Act would blow up the budget, TPM reports.

GOP voters reject Herman Cain’s “999” Tax Plan, with polls showing over 50% of Republican primary voters opposing the regressive plan, while a new controversy erupts over Herman Cain’s bizarre campaign ad, the Washington Post reports.

Rick Perry’s economic plan would cut health access on the chopping block, and cut access to Medicare and Medicaid, ThinkProgress reports.

Rush Limbaugh double’s down on his support for an African terrorist group, TPM reports.

Tales from the crypt: GOP Presidential hopeful Rick Perry resurrects the “Birther” nonsense, the Washington Post reports. Even the GOP’s Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi and Karl Rove call Perry’s “Birther” attack nutty, while  Pat Robertson, hardly known as a centrist, calls Perry’s “Birther” redux “too extreme.

Not ready for prime time: Rick Perry tells Bill O’Reilly of FOX, that his biggest mistake was agreeing to debate in the first place.

Economists: Republicans’ So-Called Jobs Plan Would Actually Cost Jobs

Republican Senate Candidates Running Scared, Won’t Defend Job-Killing Republican Plan

Senate Republicans rolled out a so-called “jobs plan” last week that would actually cost jobs. That’s right.  The Republican attempt to repackage the Tea Party agenda is drawing some ugly reviews from economists who have taken a look at their proposals. Just ask the experts.

Instead of doing much to get the economy moving again, the plan could actually do more harm than good by costing American jobs. No wonder Senate Republican candidates haven’t said a word about the plan – even they realize that these are bad ideas that don’t deserve consideration.

  • Moody’s Economist: The Senate GOP Jobs Plan Would Hurt the Economy. Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody’s Analytics, states that “in the short term, demand is weak, businesses aren’t hiring, and consumers aren’t spending. That’s the cause of the current weakness — and Republican Senate proposals aren’t going to address that in the short term.  In fact, they could be harmful in the short run, if the focus is on cutting spending.”  [Washington Post, 10/14/11]
  • Chairman of Macroeconomic Advisors: Proposals Would Have Little Effect. Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisors, examined GOP’s claim that rolling back regulations and cutting spending would create jobs and concluded that the proposals “would have little immediate effect relative to a plan that stimulates aggregate demand.”  [New York Times, 10/6/11]
  • Moody’s and Former McCain Economist Mark Zandi: Proposals Don’t Mean Much for the Economy. Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics and former McCain presidential advisor, finds that Republican proposals don’t “mean much for the economy, though, in the near term, not certainly for the next 6, 12, 18 months. And I think that’s where I’m most concerned and focused.”  [MSNBC Daily Rundown, 10/7/11; Wall Street Journal, 7/13/07]

“Economists say the so-called Republican jobs plan would actually hurt the economy. Maybe that is why Republicans Senate candidates are running scared and refusing to defend the extreme Tea Party economic plan and explain why economists are wrong,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  “If there was any question about whether or not Republicans were even remotely serious about working to get the economy back on track, this ‘jobs plan’ provides all the answers. The fact is that Senate Republicans decided to repackage their Tea Party agenda into a ‘plan’ that economists say could actually cost jobs, not create them, and that should send a disturbing message to voters about their party’s priorities.”

Previously, Republican candidates have pushed Tea Party economic policies that would hurt economic recovery instead of helping it.  The Republican “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan that was being touted earlier this year by virtually every candidate would also have a negative impact on the economy with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities saying it could cost “roughly 700,000” jobs in the current economy.  Despite the fact that this plan would have devastating consequences, Republicans have proudly supported this proposal.

In addition, it is not the first time that candidates have squirmed wildly to avoid defending or taking a position on Republican plans. For months, the likes of New Mexico’s Heather Wilson and Ohio’s Josh Mandel have avoided the GOP Medicare plan which dismantles Medicare in order to pay for more tax breaks for oil companies and multi millionaires.

Background:

July 2011: Republicans Support, Voted For Cut, Cap, and Kill Medicare Bill That Will Cause Loss of 700,000 Jobs. In July 2011, Heller voted for a radical Cut, Cap, and Kill Medicare budget plan. “Cut, Cap and Balance only raises the debt limit after the House and Senate pass a Balance Budget Amendment, cuts $111 billion in FY 2012, and places firm caps on future spending. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “these cuts would equal 0.7 percent of the projected Gross Domestic Product in fiscal year 2012 and would thus cause the loss of roughly 700,000 jobs in the current weak economy, relative to what the number of jobs otherwise would be.” Similarly, Scripps Howard News Service described the proposal as “both simplistic and economically destructive.”  [Vote 116, 7/22/11; HR 2560, Vote 606, 7/19/11; Cut Cap Balance Act.com signers, accessed 7/19/2011; House Republican Study Committee Website, accessed 7/15/11; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/16/11; Scripps Howard News Service Editorial, 7/5/11]

May 2011: Republicans Voted for Budget That Ends Medicare. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/04/11; Senate Vote 77, 5/25/11; House Vote 277, 4/15/11]

Wilson Still Not Saying Whether She Supports the Ryan Plan. In July 2011, when asked about the Paul Ryan budget plan, Wilson “continued to sidestep the question, praising the Budget Committee chairman for his efforts while pointing out disagreements with portions of his blueprint.” She said, “It’s not my job to do Harry Reid’s job here. Harry Reid needs to present a budget in the United States Senate and stand up, or get out of the chair as the leader of the United States Senate.” On the debt ceiling, she “indicated she believes the consequences of default would be real but still backs “significant reforms” before raising the debt ceiling.” [Politico, 7/8/11]

Mandel Stayed Silent On Republican’s Medicare Budget. In May 2011, the Springfield News Sun reported “Mandel, a former city councilman, said he supports Senate Bill 5 but has not taken a position on Ryan’s Medicare plan.” [Springfield News Sun, 5/25/2011]

Iraq war over, US troops coming home, President Obama says

Speaking at the Whites House President Obama announced on Friday that the nine year war in Iraq was drawing to a close.

“As Commander-in-Chief, ensuring the success of this strategy has been one of my highest national security priorities.  Last year, I announced the end to our combat mission in Iraq.  And to date, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops.  Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country’s security.

A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.  I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments.  He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future.  We are in full agreement about how to move forward.

So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.  After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over” President Obama said.

Also speaking in Washington, Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, praised the move by the President, “Iraq wanted full sovereignty while the United States wanted its soldiers back home, and both goals are achieved” al-Moussawi told the Associated Press.

Both of New Mexico’s Senators quickly applauded the President’s Iraq announcement.

U. S. Senator Tom Udall , a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, issued the following statement Friday following  President Obama’s announcement:

“I applaud President Obama for his commitment to bringing the war in Iraq to a close and commend our armed forces and the many other Americans whose exemplary service has made ending the war a reality.  I was opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning. It crippled the global solidarity that existed after 9/11 and distracted us from the mission in Afghanistan.  The immense cost of the war has contributed to a debt that we’re struggling with today.

“Despite this, for nearly a decade our armed forces served honorably in Iraq and got the job done.  We must remain mindful of their sacrifice and the obligations we hold to every veteran.  As we look to the future and a new Iraq, I agree that the U.S. should maintain a strong diplomatic presence in the region, while working with our allies to ensure the stability of Iraq and the region.”

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman released the following statement:

“I applaud the president’s announcement that our troops will be coming home in a few months.  I do not think our military involvement was ever justified by a threat to our own security.  I think it is very good to see an end to this conflict, which has cost us much in lives and resources.”