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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Don't lump student loans with health care

Jamie Stark

Don't lump student loans with health care

Like Stephen Colbert's coverage of obscure stories, I enjoy bringing under-discussed issues to light. In that respect, as students we should be particularly intrigued by the potential addition of student loan amendments to the fast-tracked health care bill.

The health-care debate gives a new meaning to over-saturated coverage. It gives Americans a new political issue to be tired of besides the war in Iraq. Much less publicized, yet just as pertinent to students, is the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). The bill would remove banks from their unnecessary job of processing student loans. Banks only offer a false sense of competition in the student loan process. Rates and loans are still determined by the feds. Direct lending would make borrowing money more efficient and cheaper for our government. We shouldn't be paying banks to disperse our money. The bill also makes financial aid more accessible for middle- and lower-class students by simplifying FAFSA, lowering the minimum family income level required for aid and adding billions in Pell grant funding.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa summarized the bill best, saying, ""The federal government has been subsidizing these banks and wasting taxpayer money for far too long. It's time to end it.""

As I wrote last week, government expansion should not be taken lightly. But SAFRA actually helps make government more efficient by removing the middleman and benefitting taxpayers. It should be far less controversial than the now-accompanying health-care bill, in itself a necessary and progressive proposal.

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Talking heads seem to suggest the integration of the two bills will ensure their passage. Those who want student loan reform will end up approving health care, and those who endorse health insurance reforms will vote for SAFRA. But it works both ways. Those opposed to one idea may vote down both with a single ""nay."" Such votes will help congressmen appear more principled as they vote against the bastardization of two important subjects.

ASM Legislative Affairs Chair Adam Johnson has been advocating for SAFRA all year, but he agrees merging the two unrelated bills will hurt their chances of passing.

""They're throwing these two proposals on the pyre and burning both,"" Johnson said. ""There's simply not enough votes.""

Republicans, like Rep. Tom Petri of Fond du Lac, who co-sponsored the original SAFRA, will vote against the overarching health/loan bill because of his disagreement with the health insurance reform, according to Johnson.

Admittedly, both bills come out of the same Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to join in a bill deemed a budget bill. Although both SAFRA and health insurance reform will affect the national budget positively, both issues should be debated. Because it can be deemed a budget bill, Congress can use reconciliation to pass the health care bill in the Senate with only 50 votes, avoiding the 60 vote filibuster and, if necessary, utilizing Vice President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote. Since SAFRA already passed the House, trimming off the Scott Brown-induced 60-vote threshold may ensure its passage, but it unfairly ties the future of student loans to the future of health insurance reform.

Support from Obama's team wouldn't be surprising, as the president needs to boost his accomplishment image, despite having the highest legislative success rate of any president, including infamous arm-twister LBJ, according to non-partisan Congressional Quarterly.

This isn't be the first time random policies are thrown together under the guise of an omni or monster bill, and it won't be the last. But the importance of these separate issues makes it especially egregious to silence debate on loan reform and hurt the chances of insurance reform.

Regardless of the passage of the SAFRA bill or the health-care bill, UW-Madison will soon be switching to direct student loans from the federal government. Next fall, UW will join the Federal Direct Student Loan Program. Along with hundreds of other American universities, UW will accept Federal Stafford and PLUS loans directly from the national government, wiping out the need for banks and credit unions to disperse money from the government to students.

Rising powers like India and China are rapidly pumping out more and more college grads. President Obama hopes the U.S. will have the highest college graduation rate in the world by 2020. If our government is dedicated to staying competitive, opening up secondary education to everyone and increasing the college graduation rate, steps like SAFRA are necessary.

But pegging such a vital bill onto another vital bill diminishes the meaning of both and oversteps Congress' primary job: thoughtful debate preceding the passing of legislation.

Tying the two pieces of legislation together may prove a successful gamble. But the two should be passed as separate, meaningful issues.

Jamie Stark is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. Please send all feedback to

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