Democratic leaders in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are still figuring out how to merge the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act [SAFRA] into the budget reconciliation package, but Democrats may have taken on a more difficult task than originally realized.
What do student loans have to do with health care? Nothing — other than the education legislation was passed in the House before Republican Senator of Massachusetts Scott Brown won his Senate seat in January leaving the Democrats without a 60-vote filibuster proof majority.
SAFRA will halt any loans from the bank-based Family Federal Education Loan Program and send the final savings into Pell Grants, community college aid, early childhood education and other programs. The legislation passed the House last September 253 – 171 with only nine Democrats opposing or not voting at all, Inside Higher Ed’s Doug Lederman explains why Democrat Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania voted against the popular bill in his party.
“Democrats voted overwhelmingly for SAFRA when the bill passed the House in September by a vote of 253 to 171, with just nine Democrats opposing the bill or not voting at all. But at least one of the Democrats who opposed the bill — Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania — was among the Democrats in the narrow majority of 220 who supported the House version of the health care legislation in November. In explaining his opposition to the student loan bill, Kanjorski argued that the legislation would take away jobs that Sallie Mae had created in his district. (Critics note that Kanjorski is also among the leading recipients of Sallie Mae’s campaign contributions.)”
Remember, more people are going to college than ever before. Seventy percent of high school graduates go to college now as opposed to 40 percent in 1970, and Pell Grants have become more of an institution within higher education.
However, the Congressional Budget Office has yet to release its numbers on the costs of the reconciliation package, and a Pell Grant shortfall was reported last December that would require an additional $18 billion over the next three years.
“There are arguments for keeping it in [SAFRA]. There are arguments for keeping it out. There was no vote taken. Not everyone had a chance to express their points of view,” said Senator Tom Carper (D – DE) after coming out of a party caucus meeting. “Our leadership is very much inclined to keep education and health care reconciliation together. That’s their inclination, I think.”
Watching the Democrats create two massive pieces of rotten legislation by themselves is bad enough, but piling them together is like watching someone make an enormous Dagwood sandwich with mysterious fillings and make you eat the mile high concoction in one sitting.
It is likely the Democrats will use bleeding heart slogans that begin or end with “the health and education of our children…” However, make no mistake. This is an unecessary mess Democrats put themselves into and merging these two bills has become more of a political necessity for the Democrats than anything else.