Chairman Miller’s Remarks on Health Care and Student Loan Reform

(This is a slightly different kind of diary post.  Below are Rep. George Miller’s (D-CA) remarks, as prepared for delivery, during floor debate on the health insurance and student loan reform legislation. Miller is the House author of both pieces of reform.)

Madame Speaker, I rise in support of this truly historic legislation that addresses two of America’s greatest troubles – the crushing costs and high obstacles of obtaining both quality health care and a college education.

Our nation and its economy have suffered from our longstanding failure to make health care and college accessible and affordable to all of the American people.

Americans have waited a long time for health insurance reform – nearly 100 years.

Today, Congress and President Obama will deliver on a central promise, on a dream deferred, on a crucial demand.  

Because of this legislation, for the first time in America’s history, never again will Americans have to worry about losing their health insurance if they change or lose their job.

Insurance companies will not be able to jack up premiums or deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

They will not be able to drop people’s coverage when they get sick – and need it most.

There is no other plan on the table today that offers Americans these vital assurances.

Our reforms will improve the lives of every single American – those with insurance today and those without it.

They will improve our economy by reducing the deficit, creating up to 4 million jobs over the next decade, and unshackling innovative business decisions from crippling health insurance costs.  

Our legislation offers families and employees of small businesses access to choices of affordable health plans; security and control over their health care; vital federal and state consumer protections; accountability for insurance companies; and coverage for 32 million Americans who don’t have insurance today.

Now, we’re pairing these truly historic health insurance reforms with another opportunity that cannot be missed: The chance to make the single largest investment in college affordability ever – and at no cost to taxpayers.

We are going to take tens of billions of dollars that for decades has gone to banks in the federal student loan program and instead give that money directly to students and to pay down the deficit.

For decades, these banks have had one of the sweetest deals in America: They receive taxpayer subsidies to make virtually risk-free loans to students.

As we speak, the federal government is now funding 88 percent of all federal student loan volume.

It has proven to be a more stable lender for students through shaky financial markets and a more cost-effective lender for taxpayers.

Ending these subsidies is not a radical idea.

President Clinton first identified these subsidies as wasteful in the 1990s.

President Bush eyed them in three of his budgets.

And President Obama has correctly proposed ending this boondoggle once and for all by originating all loans through the federal direct lending program – saving taxpayers $61 billion over 10 years.  

And that’s what our legislation accomplishes.

Our reforms are good for students, taxpayers and American jobs.

We will help low and middle-income students pay for college and invest in the support they need to graduate.

We will be more responsible with taxpayer dollars by using $10 billion of these savings for deficit reduction.

And we will end the practice of banks shipping lending jobs offshore.

Our reforms allow private lenders to service 100 percent of direct loans – preserving good jobs. But, unlike loans originated by banks, direct loans can only be serviced by workers in the United States.

That’s why last year, Sallie Mae brought 2,000 jobs they had shipped overseas back home.

It turns out they were competing for – and won – a direct loan servicing contract.

In fact, Sallie Mae has privately told workers at an Indiana servicing center that these reforms will not put their jobs at risk.  

They said a similar thing publicly to an Indiana newspaper.

Sallie Mae is now one of four companies that service 4.4 million direct loans.

With these savings, we invest $36 billion over 10 years to increase the Pell Grant to its highest level ever – including almost $14 billion to protect students from a Pell Grant shortfall.

If we don’t act immediately, eight million students could see their Pell Grants cut by 60 percent next year, and 600,000 students could lose their grants completely.

We will help new borrowers better manage their monthly payments.

We invest in community colleges, we invest in college access and completion programs, and we give vital support to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Schools that play a unique role helping minority students graduate and succeed.

HBCUs graduate 40 percent of African-American students earning math, science, technology and engineering degrees, and 50 percent of African-American teachers.

And, this bill is fully paid for.

With this one move, we can make college more affordable, keep jobs in America, prepare young people for our global economy, and reduce our deficit by billions.

I’d like to thank Ruben Hinojosa, our higher education subcommittee chair, Tim Bishop, and all of our committee members for their tireless work on student loan reform.

And along with all the members of our committee, I’d like to especially thank Rob Andrews, our health subcommittee chair, for his backbreaking work over the last year on health reform.

We almost didn’t get here today.  You know that.

Opponents of health care reform have said anything and done everything to distort the facts, delay the process, and try to put off what Americans have asked for and needed for generations. They have tried to sow fear into the American people.

They cannot win on the merits. And they will continue to distort the facts and use scare tactics as we move forward.

But here we are today. We have made it to the final step in this process — despite all that noise.

And now we face a simple choice.

We can side with America’s families and college students and make health insurance and college more affordable and accessible – while creating millions of jobs and reducing the deficit.

Or, we can side with insurance companies and banks.

That’s it.

That’s the choice.

I’m siding with the American people. I urge each of my colleagues to join me.