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Federal Legislative Update May 2012

May 25, 2012
May 18, 2012
May 11, 2012
May 4, 2012

5/25/12

VOTER EMPOWERMENT: PROTECT YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO VOTE!


The right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted, is the most basic tenet of a democratic society. Yet, voter suppression and intimidation are very much alive in our nation — with a troubling increase in misleading and fraudulent information about elections, voter intimidation, and automatic calls designed to suppress the vote. In addition, state legislatures across have considered a number of anti-voter initiatives — proposals and laws enacted to make it harder for people to vote.

This week, Democrats introduced the Voter Empowerment Act (H.R. 5799). This important legislation would open access to the ballot box through system modernization and simplification, ensure the integrity of the voting process, and protect accountability of results. Read NEA’s letter supporting the bill.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to support the Voter Empowerment Act to ensure that every citizen is able to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote.

COLLEGE DREAMS HANG IN THE BALANCE


As Congress adjourns for the Memorial Day recess, millions of students across the nation wait to see if their dreams of higher education will be dashed by rising loan interest rates. This week, Congress once again let down our nation’s students, as Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill to pay for keeping loan interest rates low by closing corporate tax loopholes. See how your Senator voted. The Republicans offered their own proposal — paid for by slashing funding for preventative health care — which was also defeated. The debate will continue when Congress returns, just weeks before the July 1 scheduled rate increase.

Congress must act now so that all Americans have a fair shot at an affordable college education and the chance to succeed in the jobs of today and the future. It’s not enough for Members of Congress to say they support making college affordable. We need elected officials who take responsibility and take action for making it affordable — but not by stripping critical resources for America’s preventative health services.

Take Action Today:

Learn more about this issue with our new Frequently Asked Questions.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-MD), John Lewis (D-GA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), John Conyers (D-MI), Robert Brady (D-PA), Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), and Judy Chu (D-CA), who spoke in support of protecting the right to vote at a press conference introducing the Voter Empowerment Act. Read comments by Representative Hoyer (the House Democratic Majority Whip) at the press event.

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Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who after signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge during his first four runs for Congress, defied Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and decided not to sign this time around, saying, "The tax code is weighted toward the ultra-wealthy and ultra-wealthy corporations, and has created an offshore aristocracy of people who can afford to hire an army of accountants and lawyers. This shifts the tax burden to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and others. I don't want to see taxes go up on any hardworking American. We need a simpler, fairer tax code." Read more. Cheers also to Representatives Scott Rigell (R-VA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), and other freshman Republicans who have declined to sign the pledge.

Jeers to:

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who this week gave a speech on education in which he demonstrated a complete disdain for public schools and educators and failed to offer any meaningful plan to provide what is best for students in need. Read NEA’s press release responding to Romney’s speech. Romney also announced his education advisors — a slate that represents a throwback to the Bush era “test, label, and punish” education policies. Among Romney’s top education advisors — Rod Paige, who as Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, called the National Education Association a “terrorist organization;” Tom Luna, who as Idaho superintendent of public instruction authored a host of bills to increase class sizes, reduce the teaching force, replace teachers with mandatory online classes and erode educator rights; and Nina Rees, who as President Bush’s Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, pushed passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and schemes that direct public school funds to private schools.

thumbsdown House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who vowed to oppose an increase in the nation’s debt-limit unless it is accompanied by spending cuts at least as large, yet has opposed any efforts to increase revenues by closing corporate tax loopholes or making sure the wealthiest pay their fair share. Learn more about why Speaker Boehner’s stance is so dangerous.

5/18/12 

RACE TO THE BOTTOM: SENATE REPUBLICANS PROPOSE SLASHING EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE


This week, Senate Republicans brought to the Senate floor a series of budget proposals — each one more dangerous than the previous. The common themes in this “race to the bottom?” — slashing funding for education and other critical priorities, letting student loan interest rates rise, ending Medicare as we know it, and repealing the landmark Affordable Care Act — all to ensure more tax breaks for the wealthiest.

Our nation is at a crossroads, having to choose between two starkly different visions for our future. We can ensure everyone a fair shot, make the investments necessary for economic growth, and stand up for the middle class and our most vulnerable populations. Or, we can continue to allow those who can most afford to pay their fair share to avoid doing so.

Congress will continue to debate these issues, as deep cuts scheduled to go into effect in January 2013 approach. We need to tell Congress that balancing the budget should not be done by slashing education and programs that serve our most vulnerable. Tell Congress that we need a balanced approach that asks those most able to do so to pay their fair share.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to make the right choice for America’s future — protect children, working families, and seniors and ensure everyone pays his or her fair share.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING ON STUDENT LOAN RATES: WILL CONGRESS SAVE COLLEGE DREAMS?


With only six weeks remaining before student loan interest rates are scheduled to double, efforts to stop the rate hike have stalled in Congress. As the debate continues over how to pay for keeping interest rates low, the dreams of millions of students hang in the balance.

Higher education has never been more important, but it also has never been more expensive. These days, higher education is not a luxury, it’s an economic imperative. We need Congress to prevent an unnecessary and damaging increase in student loan interest rates so that all Americans have a fair shot at an affordable college education and the chance to succeed in the jobs of today and the future.

It’s not enough for Members of Congress to say they support making college affordable. We need elected officials who take responsibility and take action for making it affordable.

Take Action Today:

  • Tell Congress to act now to stop student loan interest rates from doubling.
  • Tell us your story. Do you have a story to share about college debt? Would you have chosen a different career if you knew your interest rates would be doubled? Are you concerned about the financial realities of sending your own children to college? If you are a current student, what would doubled loan rates mean to you? Tell us your story and you may be featured in an upcoming Education Votes article.

PAYCHECK FAIRNESS: TELL CONGRESS TO SUPPORT EQUAL PAY FOR WOMEN


The Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act in the next few weeks. This important legislation, introduced by Senator Mikulski (D-MD), would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to coworkers. Without this bill, employers can penalize and even fire employees for talking about their salaries. This egregious practice leaves workers in the dark, preventing them from ever finding out about pay discrimination in the workplace.

In this tough economy, more and more families are counting on women’s earnings. Unfair pay practices make things even harder, especially for those families who rely solely on female earnings.

The last time the Senate voted on the Paycheck Fairness Act it fell just a few votes short of moving forward. With a vote expected in the coming weeks, we need to make sure your Senators hear strong support now.

Take Action Today: Urge your Senators to co-sponsor and support the Paycheck Fairness Act.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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Representatives DeLauro (D-CT) and Braley (D-IA), who introduced the House version of the Rebuild America Act — legislation to strengthen the middle class. The bill, introduced earlier this year in the Senate by Senator Harkin (D-IA), includes funding to save educator jobs, modernize school and campus facilities, and increase investments in early childhood education and child care.

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Representative Platts (R-PA), who during a hearing in the House Education and the Workforce Committee this week on “parental and school choice,” spoke eloquently against private school vouchers, focusing on our responsibility as a nation to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. Watch the hearing (Representative Platts’ statement begins at the 1:06 mark).

Jeers to:

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who at a campaign stop in North Carolina this week attacked unions and promised to support a “right to work” law if elected. Watch a clip of Romney’s speech.

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Senators Toomey (R-PA), Paul (R-KY), and Lee (R-UT), who brought to the Senate floor dangerous budget proposals that would slash education funding, keep student loan interest rates high, end Medicare as we know it, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Toomey budget would have cut funding by $1.2 trillion over ten years belowthe levels agreed to in last year’s bipartisan Budget Control Act and slash funding for Medicaid — which serves one-third of our nation’s children. The Paul budget would have eliminated the U.S. Department of Education and any federal role in education other than Pell Grants. The Lee budget would have decimated Social Security and Medicare, completely repealed the Affordable Care Act, and balanced the budget by cutting trillions of dollars from programs serving the most vulnerable.

5/11/12

HOW CAN THEY GET AWAY WITH IT? SENATE REPUBLICANS BLOCK STUDENT LOAN BILL


As we have reported in recent weeks, the fixed interest rate on federal subsidized student loans, held by nearly 8 million college students, is set to double on July 1 — from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. This week, in a very disappointing display of partisanship politics, Republican Senators blocked the “Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike of 2012” from proceeding to debate and vote. See how your Senator voted on this procedural “cloture” votes (note that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted no in order to preserve his right to re-introduce the legislation at a later date).

With college students already drowning in record amounts of debt—the average student graduated in 2010 with a whopping $25,000 in student loan debt —the last thing struggling students and their families need is additional fees. Keeping the interest rate low would save the average student over a thousand dollars. See how many students who go to school in your state would be affected by higher interest rates, and how much they will save over the life of their loan if Congress stops rates from doubling.

Take Action Today:

  • Tell Congress to act now to stop student loan interest rates from doubling.
  • Tell us your story. Do you have a story to share about college debt? Would you have chosen a different career if you knew your interest rates would be doubled? Are you concerned about the financial realities of sending your own children to college? If you are a current student, what would doubled loan rates mean to you? Tell us your story and you may be featured in an upcoming Education Votes article.

HOUSE VOTES TO SLASH EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, FOOD ASSISTANCE


This week, the House of Representatives approved the NEA-opposed Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act. This dangerous budget bill makes the wrong choices for our nation — opting to place the burden for the nation’s financial crisis squarely on the shoulders of the middle class and the poor, while failing to ask anything of those most able to contribute toward economic recovery. The package slashes funding for education, kicks hundreds of thousands of low-income students off school meals programs, cuts funding for food assistance for millions of poor families, and rolls back health care protections — including reducing the number of people covered by Medicaid (which serves one third of our nation’s children) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Read NEA’s letter opposing the bill. See how your Representative voted.

Congress will continue to debate these issues, as deep cuts scheduled to go into effect in January 2013 approach. We need to tell Congress that balancing the budget should not be done by slashing education and programs that serve our most vulnerable. Tell Congress that we need a balanced approach that asks those most able to do so to pay their fair share.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to make the right choice for America’s future — protect children, working families, and seniors and ensure everyone pays his or her fair share.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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President Obama, who told students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, “In the long run, the most important thing we can do for our economy is to give all of you and all Americans the best education possible. That means giving more Americans the chance to learn the skills that businesses are looking for right now. And in the 21st century, it also means higher education cannot by a luxury—it is an economic imperative that every American should be able to afford.”

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Representatives Kissel (D-NC), Hanna (R-NY), Loebsack (D-IA), Graves (R-MO), and Hartzler (R-MO), who this week introduced a National Teacher Day Resolution in the House of Representatives, honoring our nation’s teachers and their dedication to their profession and their students.

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Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who released a video message this week thanking a high school teacher who inspired and mentored him and honoring all teachers across the nation.

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Representative Albio Sires, who honored teachers in a speech on the House floor this week, saying, “Teachers do not merely just teach in the classroom --- they listen to their students and gently push them to reach their full potential. Teachers serve as role models and mentors….While we are honoring them this week, we should be thankful for their service every day. We trust teachers with our most valuable resource--- our children. While we ask teachers to prepare our children to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we must give them the tools to rise to these challenges. Competitive salaries and financial resources must be provided.”

Jeers to:

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Republican members of the United States Senate, who put partisan games above the needs of students and our nation by blocking legislation that would stop the student loan rate hike.

5/4/12

PUT STUDENTS AHEAD OF POLITICS: STOP THE STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATE HIKE


As we have reported in recent weeks, the fixed interest rate on federal subsidized student loans, held by nearly 8 million college students, is set to double on July 1 — from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. President Obama has asked Congress to block the rate increase. Yet, as NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in an opinion piece this week in the National Journal’s Education Experts Blog, “Extending lower rates for student loans should be a no-brainer. But in this hyper-divisive political climate, even the call to spare students seeking a college education from being saddled with debt has fallen victim to partisan bickering.” Last week, the House passed legislation to stop the rate hike, but offset the costs by cutting funds from the health care reform law (the Affordable Care Act). On May 8, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill that would stop the rate hike by closing corporate tax loopholes. The debate is likely to continue in the coming weeks.

Keeping the interest rate low would save the average student over a thousand dollars. See how many students who go to school in your state would be affected by higher interest rates, and how much they will save over the life of their loan if Congress stops rates from doubling.

Take Action Today:

  • Tell Congress to act now to stop student loan interest rates from doubling.
  • Tell us your story. Do you have a story to share about college debt? Would you have chosen a different career if you knew your interest rates would be doubled? Are you concerned about the financial realities of sending your own children to college? If you are a current student, what would doubled loan rates mean to you? Tell us your story and you may be featured in an upcoming Education Votes article.

TELL CONGRESS TO PASS THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT


Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (S. 1925), which includes funding for services to previously underserved populations. See how your Senator voted. The Act has transformed the nation's response to domestic and sexual violence, and has saved innumerable lives. The Senate rejected amendments that would have undermined the Act and would have blocked efforts to provide services to immigrant women, the LGBT community, and women on reservations.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up a watered down version of the bill, next week. The “Cantor-Adams” version (H.R. 4970) weakens or deletes entirely some of the vital improvements in the Senate bill, including provisions to increase the safety of Native American women and the needs of the LGBT community. The bill also creates obstacles for immigrant victims seeking to report crimes, increases danger for immigrant victims by eliminating important confidentiality protections, undermines effective anti-fraud protections, and rolls back years of progress to protect the safety of immigrant victims.

Take Action Today: Tell the House to take up and pass the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and to reject efforts to water down this critical law.

THE LATEST BATTLE ON FUNDING


As Congress debates funding levels in the coming months, they will have to make a choice as to whether we as a nation are going to ensure everyone a fair shot, or whether we will continue to allow those who can most afford to pay their fair share to avoid doing so.

The House Appropriations Committee this week took another step in the wrong direction, when they approved subcommittee “allocations” that are in line with the draconian “Ryan budget.” These allocations will be used to fund specific programs under subcommittee jurisdictions. The Ryan budget, and the allocations based on it, would slash education and other critical programs; dismantle Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition programs; and repeal the landmark health care reform law (Affordable Care Act). At the same time, it would give millionaires an average tax break of $150,000.

In contrast, the Senate is proposing funding levels in line with the Budget Control Act, a bipartisan agreement reached last year.

Take Action Today: Tell Congress to make the right choice for America’s future — protect children, working families, and seniors.

CHEERS AND JEERS


Cheers to:

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President Obama, who signed an Executive Order to protect men and women who currently serve or who have served in the military from the predatory practices of some for-profit higher education institutions. These “diploma mills” prey on vulnerable students, promising jobs that never materialize while taking advantage of their federal student aid.

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Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA), who submitted testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee stating, “I am proud to champion an extension of the deduction for educators’ out-of-pocket classroom expenses (H.R. 1738)….Strong public education depends in part on equipping teachers with adequate resources to help students succeed. According to 2006 data from the National Education Association (NEA), educators spent an average of $477 out of their own paychecks just to purchase basic classroom supplies like books, pencils, and paper….These educators are demonstrating such a commitment to investing in their students that they are reaching into their own pocketbooks to provide classroom materials and further their own professional development. Extending the deduction for out-of-pocket classroom expenses has a leveraging effect by recognizing and encouraging the continued personal financial investment these educators are making in their students. I am pleased to include with my testimony a statement from the 3.2 million members of the NEA in support of my bill.”

Jeers to:

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Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who this week sent out a press release accusing President Obama of “pandering to big labor.” Romney’s “proof” included the President’s appointment of pro-labor members of the National Labor Relations Board and his meetings with representatives of the labor community.