Unless Congress acts, the interest rates on more than 7 million students will double to 6.8 percent on July 1st. Failure to act now will add $6.3 billion to students’ debt burden in one year alone. The doubling of loan rates will hit students at a time when they can least afford it:
Young Americans have the highest unemployment rate of any other group
Two-thirds of the Class of 2010 graduated with student loan debt–leaving school with an average of $25,000 of student loan debt
This week we witnessed a dramatic and welcomed reversal on the part of House Republicans, who after months of ignoring the issue have now joined President Obama and House Democrats in our efforts to prevent the rate hike. Just last week, House Republicans voted for the Ryan budget (again) that doubles the interest rate on student loans but this week under pressure from Democrats and President Obama, Republicans backed down and changed course. Unfortunately, of all the offsets available to them, today House Republicans chose to bring a bill stopping the student loan interest rate hike paid for by totally eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund–undermining the well-being of America’s women and children by eliminating life-saving initiatives including:
Breast and cervical cancer screening for women
Immunizations for children
Screening of newborns for congenital heart defects, hearing loss, etc.
The importance of the Fund for women and children is highlighted by some of the key priorities receiving funding–for example, under the President’s FY 2013 budget proposal, it would provide:
$143 million for breast and cervical cancer screenings
$107 million for programs to address birth defects, including screening of newborns for hearing loss and congenital heart defects
$72 million for childhood vaccinations
House Republicans have been calling these health investments a “slush fund.” America’s women call them “survival.” As the Administration writes in their recommendation of a veto of this legislation:
Unfortunately, rather than finding common ground on a way to pay for this critical policy, H.R. 4628 includes an attempt to repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund, created to help prevent disease, detect it early, and manage conditions before they become severe. Women, in particular, will benefit from this Prevention Fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer. This is a politically-motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America’s college students deserves. If the President is presented with H.R. 4628, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
House Democrats offered a Motion to Recommit on the bill to protect the health of America’s women and children by prohibiting health insurance companies from raising costs or reducing benefits for preventive services like contraception, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, childhood immunizations, and health screenings for newborns. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, House Republicans rejected this opportunity to stand up for women’s health by a vote of 178-231.
The House Republican bill passed by a vote of 215-195, but if they actually want to help students they need to stop their assault on women’s health and work with House Democrats to pass a bill the President will sign. A good place to start is the Stop the Rate Hike Act of 2012 (H.R. 4816) which stops the doubling of the student loan rate and is paid for by eliminating a 2004 manufacturing subsidy for the Big Five oil companies–which is unwarranted and unnecessary at a time of record profits for the Big Five:
The five largest oil companies took in a record $137 billion in profits last year, after raking in nearly $1 trillion in the previous decade.
This week, ExxonMobil reported that it made $9.45 billion in profits, or almost $104 million per day, in the first three months of this year.
The oil industry receives $4 billion in tax breaks per year.