House Group Led
By Roe Is Working
On An Alternative
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
After a session of tense debate on a gamut of issues from health care to national security, a week of bipartisan votes in the U.S. House of Representatives was a welcome relief for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City.
Nonetheless, the fast-approaching August recess is no less valued or needed, Roe said in a news media conference call on Thursday.
Among the bipartisan votes he praised was what he described as the too-long-delayed approval of the Smarter Solutions for Students Act.
The act, which at the time of the media conference call was awaiting President Barack Obama's signature, is aimed at stabilizing student loan rates by tying them to the marketplace and setting maximum interest-rate caps.
STUDENT LOAN RATES
According to a news release from the House Education and Workforce Committee, H.R. 1911 will:
* Calculate undergraduate Stafford loans using a formula based on the 10-year Treasury note, plus 2.05 percent.
* Calculate graduate Stafford loans using the same formula, plus 3.6 percent.
* Calculate graduate and parent PLUS loans using the formula, plus 4.6 percent.
* Set an 8.25 percent interest rate cap on undergraduates' Stafford loans; a 9.5 percent cap on graduate students' Stafford loans; and a 10.5 percent cap on PLUS loans.
* Provide stability for students by locking in interest rates for the life of the loans.
* Prevent future uncertainty about whether Congress is going to act in time to change the interest rate.
The bill "languished in the Senate" for some time after passing the House, Roe said.
"I think Sen. [Lamar] Alexander [R-Tenn.] and some others got a fire built and realized they had to do something," he said.
HIGHER EDUCATION ACT
Congress's next step in improving the affordability of higher education will likely come through their work with the Higher Education Act, Roe said.
A House Education & Workforce Committee release specifically requests input from communities on ways to address the affordability of higher education, noting the need to "empower students as consumers in higher education" and "simplify and improve the student aid and loan programs."
Roe said he is also consistently calling on university presidents to seek out improvements to affordability.
New, innovative approaches to education, such as online courses through the new Tennessee-Western Governors University, may also be a solution, he said.
He also noted the number of community colleges in the First Congressional District that offer often-times more affordable educational opportunities than four-year institutions.
"There is a responsibility on the student's side," Roe added, calling on students to carefully consider their pathway, degree and job opportunities in light of the extensive debt that can easily pile up during college.
"Student loan debt exceeds all credit card debt," he added.
After praising the progress made in this and other bipartisan votes related to education and veterans affairs this week, Roe turned his attention to the coming recess.
He said that the month is set to be a busy one, with a focus on jobs and health care.
The congressman revealed that he has been putting together a subcommittee from a health-related committee on which he serves.
The new subcommittee and the health committee from which it is drawn are both functions of the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives.
The subcommittee, led by Roe, is working to write an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as ObamaCare), he said.
He noted a number of organizations with which the subcommittee has met, receiving "very positive response."
Key among the items this re-write would feature would be:
* expanding the number of individuals covered;
* no mandates;
* no increased taxes; and,
* equal tax treatment for companies and individuals.
Roe said he will continue to share details on this rewrite in the coming days. He noted that Congress will vote on funding of the ACA in the fall session, which begins in September.
Other items on the agenda for the fall, he said, will be the appropriations bills, the debt ceiling, immigration reform, and a Sustainable Growth Rate Reform bill for which he said he has signed on as an original co-sponsor.
This bill will address the way in which Medicare pays doctors, he said.