Education needs bipartisan effort
By REP. JOE COURTNEY | 5/7/12 9:24 PM EDT
In the midst of the most desperate threat to our nation, President Abraham Lincoln looked beyond the dire present of the Civil War and signed a groundbreaking national commitment to higher education. On July 2, 1862, the Morrill Act created the land-grant system for state educational institutions to foster engineering and agricultural science.
From coast to coast — from the University of Florida to the University of Alaska — every state has benefited from Lincoln’s foresight and a supportive, bipartisan group of legislators. For generations, that was how Washington looked on higher education.
Federal investment in higher education was always supported by bipartisan agreements. In fact, the two workhorses of higher education funding — the Pell Grant program and Stafford student loan program, which helps middle-class families pay for college — are named after a Democrat and Republican, respectively. In the 150 years since Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, our leaders understood that investing in young people is the real secret to U.S. success. More than our military might, financial wealth or natural resources, American innovation and creativity have sparked this country’s fire.
The day before the Morrill Act turns 150, however, the bipartisan legacy Lincoln established could retreat. Without congressional action, on July 1, the interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans is due to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Against the backdrop of a tough economy and spiraling college costs, the rate was lowered to 3.4 percent in 2007, when President George W. Bush signed into law the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which passed the House with the support of more than 200 Democrats and 77 Republicans.
President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address called on Congress to protect those lower rates. With college tuition skyrocketing and the purchasing power of federal financial aid receding, students already have serious difficulties financing higher education.
Young Americans are taking on dangerously high levels of student debt. Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt and auto loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve, and surpassed $1 trillion. Americans took out more than $100 billion in student loans last year, for the first time in our history.
This trajectory of borrowing is unsustainable. And it will only get worse if subsidized Stafford student loan rates double on July 1. If Congress does nothing, according to the nonpartisan U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, borrowers taking out the maximum $23,000 in subsidized student loans will see their debt burden increase by an estimated $5,000 over a 10-year repayment period and $11,000 over a 20-year repayment period.
Despite the long history of bipartisan cooperation on higher education, during the three months since the president called for action, Republican leaders repeatedly dismissed this issue. They did not schedule one hearing or markup — or engage in any dialogue with the minority to fix this problem.
My bill to prevent rates from doubling racked up 150 co-sponsors. But it did not win support from a single Republican until April 25.
The strong support for addressing the student loan problem has finally shaken loose the House Republican leadership. Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt turnaround on April 26 to support student loans follows months of GOP intransigence.
Of course, the GOP “plan” to pay for it by defunding women and children’s health services is hardly a responsible solution. But at least they have conceded the need to act.
With just weeks to act before student loan rates will double, I urge the party of Lincoln to follow the example of its founder — and make a bipartisan investment in higher education a priority again.
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) served on the former House Education and Labor Committee, now the Education and the Workforce Committee, until January 2011. He introduced the Student Loan Affordability Act, which would cap subsidized Stafford loan rates, on Jan. 25.
From Roll Call:
OP-ED: Joint Strike Fighter Alternate Engine Is Redundant, Expensive
By Rep. Joe Courtney
Special to Roll Call
May 20, 2011
After more than a decade of back-and-forth and more than $3 billion in unnecessary spending, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine officially breathed its final breath this year.
An embodiment of wasteful redundancy, the engine did not go down without a fight, dying despite the tireless backing of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and support from 40 of the 87 freshman Republicans who ran on platforms of eliminating government fat.
Rarely is a policy in Washington as cut and dried — or transcendent of party lines — as the alternate engine. Across the past two administrations, opposition to this unneeded engine was a rare, continuous common thread. Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates quickly and frequently lobbed veto threats at legislation that included funding for the F136 alternate engine. The rationale was simple: The engine’s cost was exorbitant and the engine they had (the F135) easily met the Pentagon’s requirements.
The forced pursuit of a second engine only threatened to further hamstring the Pentagon as they sought smart ways to rein in spending.
Supporters of the second engine argue that competition in the F-35 engine system is needed to keep costs down and hedge against potential problems with the F135. Competition is one thing; unneeded redundancy in a time of fiscal limitations is another. In fact, every U.S. fighter engine program during the past 50 years, except for the F-16, has been sole-source. More than 14,000 sole-source engines produced by GE have been purchased and performed exceptionally for our Blackhawk helicopter fleet. Double-source engines are exceedingly rare.
Yet, three months after a clear-cut and bipartisan vote of 233-198 in the House to end the program and a month after the Pentagon’s formal cancellation of the engine, the House Armed Services Committee has attempted to breathe stale new life into the debate. I was one of just five committee members to vote against an amendment allowing GE and Rolls-Royce to continue self-funded development work on their engine. Although no taxpayer funding would be specifically allocated to the program in fiscal 2012 under the committee bill, GE would enjoy continued access to government equipment, facilities and personnel.
The committee’s action must not be misconstrued as a new endorsement of the program. It has been rejected repeatedly by the president, the Pentagon, the House and the Senate. The debate is done, and the reason is clear. In addition to being staggeringly wasteful, the alternate engine program actually creates new obstacles for the Department of Defense and our men and women in uniform.
The chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, told CQ Politics in 2009 that the logistics of aircraft carriers made even storing parts for a second engine an impossibility. According to his remarks, having two separate engine programs for the Joint Strike Fighter would require costly duplication in maintenance, training and supply infrastructure. “Space is at a premium,” he said. “You can put me squarely in the one-engine camp.”
Proponents of the alternate engine also argue that a single-source aircraft is a liability. Their argument ignores the fact that today’s military boasts a number of successful single-source aircraft, including the F-18 and F-22. It also ignores the fact that, after a decade of development, the likelihood of a serious design failure is exceedingly small.
I asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, directly in February to clarify that point and comment on whether there is any need for the alternate engine. He told the Armed Services Committee: “The first engine will be more than adequate to meet the needs” of the F-35, and added: “If I thought any different, I would be encouraging the second engine. I just categorically can’t see that it will make any difference.”
I applaud Adm. Mullen, Adm. Roughead, Secretary Gates and many others for acknowledging the strategic and financial burden this program created and for advocating its elimination. As we have already seen, some will continue to seek to rehash this fight, perhaps in perpetuity.
Today, our nation faces important fiscal choices. Those who demand we address these challenges must also accept the responsibility to make the tough and smart choices in our defense budget. With clear bipartisan opposition in the House and Senate to the extra engine, senior military leaders firmly on record in support of its elimination, and with our military actively engaged in three conflicts around the globe, it is time to end definitively this fruitless pursuit and move on from this decade-long debate to more pressing defense budget issues.
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) has been a member of the House Armed Services Committee since first becoming a Member of Congress in 2007. The main engine for the F-35 is assembled at a Pratt & Whitney plant in East Hartford.
OP-ED: Ryan’s Medicare plan will remove security for seniors
By Joe Courtney
May 6, 2011
My father, Bob Courtney, was a lifelong Republican. He paid his bills on time and took pride in his self-reliance.
But when my father fell ill from a congestive heart condition at age 82, he required constant intensive care. I served as his power of attorney during those years, and as we went through his tall stack of hospital bills, he turned to me and said simply, “Thank God for Medicare.”
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, only 50 percent of America’s seniors could afford to buy health insurance. It was not accidental or malicious; the high cost of covering America’s over-65 population made seniors basically uninsurable.
That all changed with one stroke of a presidential pen when Medicare was established as a guaranteed benefit, providing a basic level of care for seniors regardless of income or illness.
Subsequent generations have protected Medicare’s promise during good times and bad, during war and recession.
This generation is no different, but today Medicare is facing its biggest threat since 1965. In their budget plan for fiscal year 2012, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives put forth a proposal that would end Medicare as we know it.
Rather than a guaranteed benefit — underwritten by the government and able to expand or contract based on a patient’s unique needs — the plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would pay a flat voucher of $8,000 to seniors, leaving the rest of a patient’s risk in the hands of private insurers and health providers.
This formula would result in a massive cost shift to patients and families. Indeed, within hours of the plan’s release, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that out-of-pocket costs for seniors would double in year one, by $6,000, under the radically-restructured benefit. If anything, that estimate of average costs for all seniors, healthy and ill, understates the impact on patients with chronic high-cost illnesses like the one my father suffered from for two long years.
Under the guise of reform and fiscal responsibility, House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan’s plan would remove all semblance of security and make it significantly more difficult for seniors to keep up with escalating health-care costs.
Instead of delivering real savings in the Medicare program, the proposal merely would shift costs to seniors in the form of higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs. The plan includes no reform of care delivery, none of the coordination of care with electronic records, and no provider collaboration.
In addition to converting Medicare into a voucher system, the proposal will repeal all of the positive changes for Medicare in the health care reform law. This year, beneficiary copayments for preventative-care services — like mammograms, colonoscopies, or diabetes screenings — were eliminated as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Seniors who reached the Part D doughnut hole have received checks to help pay for medication costs, and assistance will continue until the hole is completely eliminated in 2020. These very reforms that support smarter, more efficient care through early diagnosis of disease and through better management of chronic conditions will also be eliminated under the Ryan-Republican proposal.
Unfortunately, House Republicans passed the Ryan Medicare plan on a straight party-line vote, despite the other more responsible, effective deficit-reduction alternatives on the table.
I support a proposal introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, which puts our country on a responsible economic path.
That plan, which I voted for, guarantees health-care coverage for seniors and disabled citizens. The plan I support preserves and protects Medicare, ensuring that future generations benefit from the program that improved the lives of countless seniors. It will ensure that all Americans can live their retirement years in dignity, ready to repeat the words of a staunch Republican like Bob Courtney Sr.: “Thank God for Medicare.”
Joe Courtney is the U.S. representative from Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District.
OP-ED: Affordable Care Act delivers real change one year later
By JOE COURTNEY
Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, the changes under the law have been real and have helped our parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents and children right here in eastern Connecticut. Take, for example, Steven Waslo, a sophomore the University of Connecticut.
I met Steven last year while his sister, Laura, was fighting acute adolescent autoimmune small-fiber axonopathy, a rare autoimmune disorder. In the winter of 2009, one month before she was to graduate early from New York University, Laura started feeling ill. She still graduated early, but, in so doing, she entered a post-graduate world where her condition and an earlier diabetes diagnosis made obtaining insurance virtually impossible.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, however, Laura, like 50,000 young people under age 26 in eastern Connecticut, had access to her parents’ health insurance after graduation. Her monthly blood infusion, which is a critical part of her treatment, costs $20,000, but without lifetime caps to worry about, she is free to focus on her recovery. Laura has been accepted recently at the New England School of Law with a full scholarship. Although she deferred for a year to continue her treatment, Laura expects to enroll next fall.
The changes have also been real for Joan Katz, 85, who has received relief from rising prescription drug prices. When Joan tallied up the costs of her seven medications, she counted $298.72 in out-of-pocket expenses. It was a typical three-month tab for her prescriptions, which counter high blood pressure and keep her cholesterol in check. The cost also meant that Joan wound up in the so-called Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” – a coverage gap in which enrollees are responsible for 100 percent of drug costs.
While Joan has dealt with high prescription costs for years, 2010 was the first year she received direct assistance. As part of the Affordable Care Act, seniors who hit the Part D doughnut hole last year received a $250 rebate check to help cover prescription costs. The rebate is part of the law’s gradual phase-out of the doughnut hole, which will be eliminated altogether in 2020.
And, the changes have been real for Dr. Kristin Gildersleeve, a physician who operates a family practice in Hebron. She is a small-business owner with five employees who rely on her for health insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance was her second largest expense after payroll. Now, thanks to the law’s Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, she will receive a $10,000 tax credit for insuring her employees in 2010.
Now the patients’ needs are considered
One year ago, limited consumer protections existed in our health coverage system. Insurance companies made critical health care decisions based not on the needs of patients, but on their own bottom line. They were free to deny coverage based on everything from heart murmurs to leukemia, free to rescind coverage after premiums had already been paid, and free to place arbitrary lifetime benefit limits on coverage.
With passage of the Affordable Care Act, many of these egregious insurance practices that left countless Americans out in the cold have been eliminated or begun to change. Lifetime benefit caps are gone, providers can no longer rescind coverage when consumers need to use the benefits that they purchased, and new tax credits are available to small businesses to help pay for employee coverage.
While great strides have already been made, better change is still to come and like any law, the Affordable Care Act can be improved with sensible amendments. Last December, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to extend the law’s age 26 coverage provision to TRICARE plans used by military families. And, just a few weeks ago I joined a bipartisan group in the House to pass repeal of the 1099 reporting requirement that was onerous on our small businesses. The anniversary of health care reform should be a moment to recognize the real life help patients and families are receiving from the act as well as the need to constantly move forward with smart, effective ways to build on its positive change.
Joe Courtney is the congressman representing Connecticut’s 2nd District.
OP-ED: Lawmakers trying to protect consumers from oil speculators
By U.S. REP. JOE COURTNEY
Posted Mar 05, 2011
As Libya’s political landscape erupted against the Gaddafi regime last week, hard news trickled out of the country. With facts scarce, a rumor that Gaddafi had been shot jolted the commodities market, sending U.S. crude oil futures down more than 2 percent. Similar rumors and news have shaken the market in the past, causing wild swings in gas prices, even as ample supplies remained unchanged.
The cause is simple: Speculators who never take actual possession of oil, such as hedge funds, are buying and selling commodities, and profiting by betting on whether short-term prices rise or fall. They make money by betting on movement — buying long when rumors suggest price increases, buying short when prices go down.
Heads they win; tails you lose. Their opportunism is once again hitting working-class wallets, increasing the burden on small business owners and farmers, and elevating the cost of summer travel.
For the five years I’ve been in Congress, companies that actually take possession of oil and gas, including Connecticut petroleum dealers, have argued passionately that stabilizing gas prices requires diluting the influence of short-term profit seekers in the commodities market. Prices at the pump are rising despite no change in supply.
Last week alone, oil prices surged 13 percent. Americans are now paying roughly $75.6 million more per day to fill up than a week ago —the sharpest rise in per-gallon cost since 2005.
The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law last year, targets the previously unregulated derivatives market. Within those markets, speculators outnumber traders who buy and sell for their own consumption, four to one. High-frequency trading — the type used for short-term profit and most prone to panics — accounts for one third of all trades in the futures market.
To protect consumers from such market swings, The Commodity Futures Trading Commission can limit outside players’ influence. The law allows strict limits on the number of speculators and the number of trades by those who do not actually buy or sell oil, making the markets less volatile and friendlier to consumers. Although the commission is moving forward with these pro-consumer changes, special interests are fighting back.
Now, the commission is under attack by House Republicans determined to slow implementation of the reforms, proposing a one-third cut in its budget and reducing staff from 680 to less than 440.
Commission Chairman Gary Gensler said: “We’d have to have significant curtailment of our staff and resources. We would not be able to police … or ensure transparent markets in futures or swaps.”
Completion of this rulemaking process is critical for drivers at the pump and families heating homes in Eastern Connecticut. Protection is essential against the speculative trading that has needlessly driven up energy costs in recent years.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney represents Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District.
Anti-Health Care Republicans Officially Receive Taxpayer-Funded Coverage
By Joe Courtney
February 1, 2011
Today, Republican Members of Congress who ran on a platform of repealing health care and patients’ rights for millions of Americans officially began receiving their own Congressional health insurance. Just two weeks after their party voted unanimously to strip patient protections and affordable coverage for all Americans, all but 15 new Republican members of the 112th Congress are enrolled in a comprehensive insurance plan. Their plan is paid for with generous subsidies courtesy of the American taxpayer, and has no waiting period for pre-existing illness or disability. Read more
Op-Ed: On Day One, Republicans Cripple Construction Industry
By Joe Courtney
January 6, 2011
It took just hours for the new Republican House majority to break their vows of transparency and bipartisan cooperation. In the new rules they authored, Republicans exempted budget-busting items like health care repeal from their own pay-go requirements, and they took the budget-writing process behind closed doors, consolidating it in their own hands. Without input from Democrats and without even an amendment process, they crafted a dangerous set of rules that threatens not just the way Congress works, but puts American jobs on the line as well.
One of the lesser-noticed provisions of the Republican rules package brought together an array of interests from across the ideological spectrum in opposition. What unites the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Ironworkers, the American Trucking Association, the Associated General Contractors of America and the Laborers International Union?
They are all opposed to a job-killing GOP proposal that undermines the Congress’s commitment to the federal Highway Trust Fund — a move that has potential to further destabilize the building trades sector and devastate an already-struggling workforce.
The new rules package reverses a policy in effect for over a decade that required that all revenues paid into the Highway Trust Fund be used for eligible highway and transit projects. Enacted in 1998 by Republican Rep. Bud Shuster, this rule provided the kind of certainty and stability that the industry and state and local governments need to plan long-term major infrastructure projects.
The building trades sector is already facing Depression-level unemployment figures of 25 percent, and now Republicans want to throw the entire industry into disarray under the guise of budget fairness. It is a dangerous and unnecessary move in any environment, but against the backdrop of a slowly recovering economy, it is flat-out irresponsible.
One day into their tenure, House Republicans are breaking promises and taking dangerous ideological stands. Their action on the Highway Trust Fund is reverberating across constituencies, but perhaps more strikingly, it is also crushing the construction industry on Wall Street.
As Republicans were preparing to name John Boehner their speaker, the global financial services firm UBS downgraded a number of construction industry stocks, explicitly citing the GOP rule as one of the reasons for the move. In the wake of that decision and as the rule moves closer to reality, stocks across the industry have tumbled in recent days.
Yet, all the while, Republican leaders stand idly by. They have time to read the entire Constitution on the floor of the U.S. House and they have time pursue a meaningless, dangerous and futile effort to repeal health care reform, but they do not have time to consider changing a rule that is wreaking havoc in an industry and imperiling jobs across this country.
I have written to Speaker Boehner and other Republican leaders urging them to reconsider and strike their rule, which they erroneously claim is fiscally responsible. This issue is not about a bottom line; it is about jobs and working-class Americans’ livelihoods. It is far too important to be ignored.
The Journal Inquirer today carries an op-ed today from Joe discussing the importance of investing in American manufacturing. Read more about Joe’s plan to “Make it in America.”
Make it in America
August 17, 2010
On a hot, sunny Saturday earlier this month, I joined several Navy and congressional leaders and thousands of enthusiastic onlookers at Subase New London in cheering not just the commissioning of our nation’s newest attack submarine, the USS Missouri, but the reminder that “American-Made” is still the gold standard. Built in record time and with the most advanced technology available, the new submarine is a testament to the hard work and skill of the men and women of Electric Boat and the hundreds of small- and mid-sized manufacturing shops that comprise the submarine industrial base.
At a time when many doubt the future of “Made in America” manufacturing, the commissioning of the Missouri is proof positive that American-made manufacturing can produce a technological wonder that no other country can approach. We can also do it ahead of schedule and under budget.
The New London Day carries an op-ed by Joe today about his efforts since 2007 to protect jobs in our region through increasing submarine production. Learn more about Joe’s record of accomplishment on behalf of the “Submarine Capital of the World.”
Two Subs a Year Took a Concerted Effort
New London Day
June 13, 2010
By JOE COURTNEY
Late last month, the U.S. House of Representatives took an historic step forward for America’s submarine force. We authorized the production of two Virginia-class submarines next year and for the foreseeable future. In eastern Connecticut, that means jobs and innovation will grow, new technology will be created, and that the Congress, president, and secretary of Defense have reaffirmed the national security value of submarines.
Four years ago, the Virginia-class program and Electric Boat’s future were unclear. Pentagon budgets only funded one submarine annually, dating back to the late 1980s, and although production was scheduled to double in 2002, that plan was postponed repeatedly.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. My predecessor in Congress, Rob Simmons, worked diligently to procure more subs. Despite his efforts, there were roadblocks and disappointments. In fact, President Bush’s 2008 budget sought to make one submarine annually the new norm. That decision would have had dire consequences not just for the region and local jobs, but nationally as well.
That was the political landscape in Washington when I arrived in January 2007. The process was broken in our nation’s capital. Turf wars and politics were getting in the way of strengthening national defense; and Electric Boat and Connecticut jobs were on the line. I met with officials and workers at EB right away, and learned how dismal the outlook was. In 2005, a 50-percent reduction in work force was projected if submarine production remained stagnant.
As a freshman congressman, I sought the counsel of senior congressional leaders including Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, and the late Rep. John Murtha, then chairman of the defense funding subcommittee. They said they would try to help, but that to prevail, I needed to make the clear and compelling case that investing in submarines was the right decision for our nation.
Two months after joining the House Armed Services Committee, I invited Electric Boat President John Casey to testify in Washington. Along with representatives of the Metal Trades Council and Marine Draftsmen Association, Casey assured committee leaders that EB was ready to increase production while maintaining the quality the Navy had come to expect from them. The Virginia-class submarine program has long been heralded for delivering its product on time and on budget, and Casey vowed to continue that trend even if production were doubled.
At the same time, it became easier to stress the growing need for additional subs when we contrasted our own production to what was happening in places like China, where they were producing five submarines annually. Our fleet was aging and shrinking, and no sense of urgency existed. There was no rush to close what might eventually have been a massive gap in power and technology.
With help and guidance from Murtha and Taylor, in my first year in Congress, I secured $588 million to increase submarine production to two-a-year beginning in 2011. That investment survived repeated attempts by the Bush administration to strip the funding. As a result, two Virginia-class submarines are set to be produced in each of the next three years, and significant investment in the next generation of Ohio-class subs is budgeted.
Today, Electric Boat is poised to provide an employment engine in southeastern Connecticut. Although challenges remain, the company is hiring new engineers and designers – reassuring signs for our region.
This trend is not about parochial interests; it is based on a growing recognition that submarines are an essential part of America’s national defense. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates underscored this priority in a recent speech criticizing Pentagon waste.
“We must also rethink what and how we buy to shift investments towards systems that provide the ability to see and strike deep along the full spectrum of conflict,” said Gates. “This means, among other things a submarine force with expanded roles that is prepared to conduct more missions deep inside an enemy’s battle network. We will also have to increase submarine strike capability and look at smaller and unmanned underwater platforms.”
New technology and effective submarines make for a stronger defense. And today it is a given that the U.S. should produce two subs annually. But that consensus did not emerge overnight, and four years ago, the future of Electric Boat and Virginia-class submarines were nowhere near as certain as they are now.
When two submarines are being built next year, they are not just subs. They are also jobs and benefits for employees in Groton and other places across the state that support and supply EB. Submarines are security for families and a boon to eastern Connecticut. They are also a years-long effort, and a reality that four years ago nearly disappeared.