Showing posts with label Senator Claire McCaskill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Senator Claire McCaskill. Show all posts

Friday, October 6, 2017

Why won't Congress do a few things to ease the student debt crisis like stop the government from garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters?

James Howard Kunstler posted a blog last week in which he challenged Congressional Democrats to introduce legislation to counteract the effect of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). In that case, you may recall, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give as much money as they like to political campaigns. 

All sensible people agree that Citizens United triggered a new level of corruption in national politics as corporations pump millions of dollars into Congressional campaign coffers in order to protect their venal interests.

President Obama complained publicly about Citizens United while he was in office.  But he didn't do anything about it, even though he could have ameliorated its effect through legislation when the Democrats controlled the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Democrats can still put a Citizens United override on their legislative agenda as Kunstler challenged them to do:
That’s your assignment Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership. Get serious. Show a little initiative. Do something useful. Draw up some legislation. Get behind something real that might make a difference in this decrepitating country. Or get out of the way and let a new party do the job.
And of course there are plenty of other things the Democrats can do to promote fairness and justice in our society. As Gretchen Morgenson pointed out in a New York Times article last year, hedge fund managers get a special tax break allowing them to pay lower taxes on their income than most Americans.  That's right: a hedge fund manager is taxed at a lower rate than a New York school teacher.  President Obama could have closed that loophole in the tax law by executive action, but he didn't.

And then there's corporal punishment in the schools. Researchers are unanimous that beating children with boards is not good for them, and the United Nations has identified corporal punishment as a human rights abuse.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, Secretary of Education John King, Jr. condemned corporal punishment in an open letter to the nation's school leaders. But why didn't King speak up sooner? Corporal punishment in schools is a wrong that Obama's Department of Education could have stopped with an administrative regulation. Why didn't it? 

And then there's the student-loan program, which has brought suffering to millions.  According to the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Education garnished the Social Security checks of 173,000  student-loan defaulters in 2015, a practice that Senator Elizabeth Warren bitterly condemned. The amount the government collects each year is a pittance--about one eighth the amount Hillary Clinton spent during the 2016 election season. And most of the money the Feds collect goes to paying interest and penalties without reducing the debtors' loan balances at all.

Senator Warren and Claire McCaskill filed a bill to stop the garnishment of student debtors' Social Security checks, but the measure never made it out of committee. Why won't Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi get behind that bill? Who could decently oppose it?

In fact, there are numerous noncontroversial things our Congressional representatives could do to ease widespread suffering among the nation's poorest Americans. But  our Congressional representatives are not doing these things. 

Why? Two reasons.

 First, they don't want to do noncontroversial good things because that would mean sharing the credit with their political enemies.

And second, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and all our other bozo representatives don't work for us. They work for the lobbyists, their campaign contributors, and the global financial institutions; and that keeps them pretty busy.




References

Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. Letter to Governors and State School Officers, November 22, 2016.

James Howard Kunstler. Homework AssignmentClusterfuck Nation, September 29, 2017.

Gretchen Morgenson. Ending Tax Break for Ultrawealthy May Not Take Act of CongressNew York Times, May 6, 2016.


Senator Elizabeth Warren Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors

United States Government Accountability Office. Social Security Offsets: Improvement to Program Design Could Better Assist Older Student Borrowers with Obtaining Permitted Relief. Washington DC: Author, December 2016).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Louisiana man gets 10 years in prison for stealing a toolbox from a church: A plea for bipartisan cooperation to promote justice

Michael Duplessis, age 34, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing a toolbox from Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Amant, Louisiana. Duplessis was sentenced after he agreed to a plea deal to avoid the possibility of  a life sentence.

A life sentence for stealing a toolbox! How could that be?

Michael Duplessis: Sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing a toolbox from Holy Rosary Church

Apparently, Duplessis is a repeat offender. He had previously been convicted of stealing a cellphone charger from a residence and later a boat battery. Under Louisiana's habitual offender law, Duplessis is a three-time loser and could have been sentenced to life in prison for lifting that toolbox. I imagine the plea bargain looked pretty good to him.

Obviously a law that can send a man to prison for the rest of his life for stealing a cellphone charger, a battery and a toolbox is unjust and inhumane. In fact, Pope Francis has said that life sentences are essentially death sentences.

Surely, reasonable people can work together to repeal such a barbaric statute.

So why aren't Republicans and Democrats working together to do that? In fact there are dozens of unjust laws that could be repealed. As I wrote awhile back, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Claire McCaskill introduced a bill to stop the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Who in Congress could oppose such a bill?

Unfortunately, our elected representatives at the state and national level are so caught up in political warfare that nothing gets done. And the mainstream press has become so obsessed with criticizing President Trump that it has abandoned its traditional role of advocating for justice.

Just today, in my local newspaper, Richard Cohen, a syndicated columnist, published an essay that was nothing more than warmed over criticism of President Trump. In case the public had forgotten, Cohen reminded us that Trump unfairly criticized Senator John McCain and the Hispanic judge who presided over the Trump University litigation. Isn't there something more timely and important that Cohen can write about?

Enough already. Republicans and Democrats should look for problems they can solve together, and the press should resume its traditional roll of publicizing injustices like the one perpetuated on poor Mr. Duplessis. This is how democracy works after all, or how it used to work, before everyone in public life began behaving like children.

References

Richard Cohen. Can't anybody play this game? The Advocate (Baton Rouge), February 17, 2017, p. 5B.

David J. Mitchell. Man gets 10 years in burglary of church. The Advocate (Baton Rouge), February 17, 2016.

Kathy Schiffer, Pope Francis Opposes Capital Punishment; Calls Life Sentences for Violent Criminals "A Hidden Death Penalty." Seasons of Grace blog site, October 23, 2014.











Friday, February 10, 2017

President Trump and the Democrats: Washington DC has become a kindergarten

A few moments ago, I watched a video showing protesters blocking Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from entering a public school--a school where she was scheduled to attend a meeting with educators. The video clip wasn't long but I saw one guy shouting at her and I saw someone trying to block Secretary DeVos's vehicle as she was being driven away.  You should watch this video.

In only a matter of weeks, Washington DC has turned into a giant kindergarten. I suppose President Trump bears part of the blame. He has a distressing tendency to lash out at his detractors with tweet messages that only give his most unreasonable critics publicity and credibility. I wish he would take the high road and simply ignore his hysterical attackers.

But I blame the Democrats for plunging political discourse to the level of a playschool.  The Democrats behaved like children during the nomination process for President Trump's cabinet choices. Why did they do that, knowing that the President had the votes to get them all confirmed?

It would be hard to choose the chief tantrum thrower, but I give my vote to Senator Elizabeth Warren. She showed a shocking level of immaturity when she insinuated on the floor of the Senate that Jeff Sessions, one of her colleagues, is a racist.

A lot of people are upset about Donald Trump being our President. I understand that. But disappointment is no reason for political leaders to jettison civility in public discourse. What will that accomplish?

Furthermore, I believe there is bipartisan support around solving several important public policy problems. As I have already written, surely everyone from Senator Mitch McConnell to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi can agree that the government should not be garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulter.s  And if I'm right about that, why can't Republicans and Democrats unite around the McCaskill-Warren bill to stop that practice?

Over my lifetime, I have dealt with a lot of people who behaved boorishly toward me, tried to bully me, or behaved deceitfully toward me; and those people upset me. But I learned that I was always better off to retain my dignity and to respond to unprofessional behavior in a reasonable and straightforward manner.

Trump's detractors  seem to think that behaving like kindergarten children is the appropriate way to show their dissatisfaction with the 2016 election results. But they are wrong. If the Democrats don't pull themselves together and begin to behave like grownups, this nation is headed for real trouble--and I don't mean just political trouble.




Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Betsy DeVos is the new Secretary of Education: How About Bipartisan Support for Senator Warren & Senator McCaskill's Bill to Stop Garnishing Social Security Checks of Elderly Student-Loan Defaulters?

Any excuse for a slumber party, right?

Yesterday, Democrats kept the Senate in session all night to register their opposition to Betsy DeVos as the  new Secretary of Education. But Vice President Pence broke the tie vote in the U.S. Senate this morning, and today Betsy DeVos is President Trump's new Secretary of Education.

Senate Democrats bitterly opposed DeVos's nomination, but that battle is over. Now is a good time for Democrats and Secretary DeVos to cooperate on a common objective--an objective that should attract broad bipartisan political support.

So here's what I suggest: relief for elderly student-loan debtors.

Senators Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren supported a bill in 2015 that would stop the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly and disabled people who defaulted on their student loans.  The bill got nowhere.

The Senators also asked the Government Accountability Office to prepare a report on elderly Americans with student loan debt, and GAO delivered that report last December. The report was widely covered by the media and contained some fascinating information.
  • First, "[t]here has been a 10-fold increase in the amount of student debt held by people age 65 or older--from $2 billion in 2005 to $22 billion" in 2015  (quoting the Washington Post).
  • The federal government has increased efforts to garnish Social Security check of student-loan defaulters. According to Senator McCaskill's office, "The number of Americans whose Social Security checks are being garnished by the government to recoup defaulted student loans has increased by 540 percent in the last decade to over 114,000 older borrowers."
  • In 2015, 173,000 Americans had their Social Security income offset due to defaulted student loans. This is a dramatic increase from 2002, when the government only applied offsets to 36,000 Social Security recipients (page 11 of GAO report).
  • Some Social Security recipients whose income was offset lived below the federal poverty guideline and others dropped below the poverty level after their Social Security checks were reduced (p. 27 of GAO report). In fact, as Senator Elizabeth Warren emphasized in a recent press release, "Since 2004, the number of seniors whose Social security benefits have been garnished below the poverty line increased from 8,300 to 67,300."
  • More than 7 million people age 50 and older still owe on student loans, and 870,000 people age 65 and older have student loan debtAmong student-loan borrowers age 65 and older, 37 percent are in default (figure 2, page 10 of GAO report).
  • The amount of money the government collects from Social Security offsets is a pittance compared to overall student debt. The government  only collected $171 million from Social Security offsets in 2015, about $1,000 per garnishee.
  • Most of the money collected from Social Security offsets went toward paying fees and accumulated interest.  "Of the approximately $1.1 billion collected through Social Security offsets from fiscal year 2001 through 2015 from borrowers of all ages, about 71 percent was applied to fees and interest" (p. 19 of GAO report).
Surely, Senators McCaskill and Warren can muster bipartisan support for legislation that will stop the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Perhaps they might ask for a couple of Senate Republicans to join as co-sponsors. I suggest Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. Both voted against Ms. Devos' confirmation.

And I'll bet Senators McCaskill and Warren could get Betsy Devos and the Department of Education to endorse the bill. At least they could ask.

Who would oppose such a bill? I don't think anyone would.  What a wonderful message such a law would send to the American people: the message that our elected leaders--Congress and the Executive Branch--can work together to advance the common good.

On the other hand, if Congress and the U.S. Department of Education can't cooperate to get this wholly beneficial legislation adopted, then the political process is indeed broken.




References

Sandy Baum. Student Debt: Rhetoric and Realities of Higher Education Financingg. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2016.

Jordan Carney. Two GOP senators to vote no on Betsy DeVosThe Hill, February 7, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. The disturbing trend of losing Social Security benefits to student debt. Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2016.

Senator Claire McCaskill Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors.

Senator Elizabeth Warren Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors

United States Government Accountability Office. Social Security Offsets: Improvement to Program Design Could Better Assist Older Student Borrowers with Obtaining Permitted Relief. Washington DC: Author, December 2016).