Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Drilling Offshore: Solving our Energy Crisis?

Today, President Obama announced that the U.S. will approve significant oil and gas exploration off America's coasts.

"Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy," Obama said. This new focus becomes part of a new energy policy that relies more on American energy sources that are cleaner and more sustainable.

Although this plan continues America’s use of dirty fossil fuels in the short run, it is a great first step to becoming an energy-independent country and having less dependence on foreign oil in the long run. We already waste significant amounts of money paying other countries for their sources of fuel that we, up to now, have given up on American sovereignty. This has made us a weaker nation, especially financially.

This new plan, however, does not mean that Obama supports the notion that we “can simply drill our way to energy security”, as many Republicans claim. Instead, it shows real presidential leadership that lies in providing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that ends our reliance on foreign oil and puts Americans back to work.

Not only will this create thousands of new jobs for the coastal states, such as Virginia, but it would also generate millions of dollars in revenue and further reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources and help us invest in alternative sources of fuel.

While opponents, including many Democrats and environmentalists, disapprove any new offshore drilling and proponents, including a majority of Republicans and Independents, advocate opening all U.S. waters to energy exploration, Obama has found a solid middle ground to increase our domestic energy production and demands for stricter limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

It is a compromise to ensure our energy policy improves. It is a compromise that shows support for a new bipartisan bill that, in addition to spending $84 billion on the development of better batteries and energy-and-fuel saving technologies, would have allowed for drilling for oil and natural gas on American soil.

That’s what you call bipartisan.

This solution to our energy crisis is only temporary, but a crucial development while we look up alternative sources that are less costly and more environmentally friendly.

It is still a work in progress, but it emphasizes Obama’s willingness to keep our businesses competitive and solve our energy needs. It shows a willingness to listen to the American people and promote stronger initiatives that will help make the U.S. a stronger and better country. It helps secure support for a strong climate change bill in Congress.

Improving Student Loans

Last week, President Obama signed the most comprehensive healthcare reform bill in recent history. Yesterday, he finished the job by signing the reconciliation bill into law, along with sweeping higher education funding overhaul.

The bill overhauls higher education financing, doubling funding for Pell grants, allowing students to borrow directly from the government and easing payment structures once they graduate. Most importantly, the Direct Loan program will be expanded.

Prior to the passage of this bill, financial institutions like Sallie Mae would give out loans. If students defaulted, the government would guarantee the loan and pay the company for the default. But wasteful spending by the banks has drained valuable funds away from education programs. Now, however, the loans will be coming directly from the government, so they don't have to pay companies for defaults.

By avoiding paying these “middle men”, it saves taxpayers $61 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Thirty-six billion of that would go to the popular Pell Grant program. More than $4 billion in savings would go to institutions that serve minorities and the rest, close to $20 billion, would be used for non-education purposes, offsetting health care reform expenses. In addition to investing in college aid, these provisions will also reduce the deficit by at least $10 billion over 10 years.

Also, loan repayments will be capped at 10 percent of a graduate's salary, down from the current 15 percent, starting in 2014. Additionally, borrowers who responsibly make their monthly payments will see their remaining balance forgiven after 20 years of repayment, reduced from 25 years in current law.

Now more than ever, Americans need affordable, quality education opportunities to help make our economy strong and competitive again. By eliminating wasteful subsidies to private bankers and switching to a system of direct lending of federal student loans, that has become reality.

As the President said in his 2010 State of the Union address: “To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants."

For those keeping track, that's 2 huge vitories in only 1 week. And they say the President hasn't accomplished anything.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Healthcare Reform Means

Last Sunday night, we made history with the passage of real Health Care Reform.

For me, it was especially significant because I will no longer be denied health coverage due to my pre-existing condition. I will no longer be forced to pay a 100 percent increase in my health premiums due to my pre-existing condition. I will no longer be told by others that my experience with cancer at the age of 13 was my fault. They won’t be able to tell me that it’s simply okay that I suffered injustice and negative consequences from an insurance company.

Not only is this law a win for me, but it is a win for the American people. After this law goes into effect, over 95% of Americans will have health insurance coverage. That’s 32 million more people who, up to today, did not have insurance. Medicaid will be expanded to offer health insurance coverage to an additional 16 million lower-income Americans.

Now it’s a law, people will not be cheated by the insurance companies into paying premiums every year, only to be told that they are too sick to be covered for the insurance policy they paid for. Instead, insurance companies will not be able to drop your coverage.

Now that the bill is signed into law, no longer will students coming out of college with up to $100,000 of debt be forced suffer another added cost. Under the bill, young adults will be able to remain on their family insurance plans until age 26.

Now that the bill is signed into law, no longer will individuals and small businesses unable to afford insurance be treated like second class citizens. They will now have the ability to choose from a variety of competing plans with lower premiums, in the same way our members of Congress choose their plans. By reducing health care costs for employers, reform will create or save more than 2.5 million jobs over the next decade.

No longer will the American people be told that the economic condition of the country cannot be fixed. This reform bill will cut the federal budget deficit by $138 billion over the next ten years, and another $1.2 trillion in the following ten years.

No longer will healthcare be a privilege, but instead, a given right.

However, some Republicans are now trying all they can to repeal these major reforms. They want to allow insurance companies to continue dropping coverage for people when they need it the most. They want to continue forcing people to pay increased premium rates. They want insurance companies to continue to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. They want to continue the status quo.

If the last 14 months of vigorous debate have taught the American people anything, it’s that we cannot afford the status quo anymore.

It is not my fault that I had cancer. And finally, with this law, that’s finally been acknowledged.