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Washington Watch w/Roland Martin, White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes 03.07.10

03/07/2010 12:48 pm 0 comments

MR. ROLAND MARTIN:  Welcome to “Washington Watch,” folks.  Two dominant issues this week.  President Barack Obama goes all-in on healthcare, and thousands of students nationwide protest the high cost of education.  Let’s tackle both with our next guest, White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes.

How’s it going?  Welcome back.

MS. MELODY BARNES:  It’s great to be here.  Thank you for having me.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  I – I want to deal with healthcare first.  Then we’ll get to education.

MS. BARNES:  Sure.

MR. MARTIN:  Clearly, the President has made it perfectly clear, “I’ve had the summit.  We’ve been going now 12, 14 months.  All the conversation, all in.”  But isn’t the real issue here not really him accepting four GOP ideas, but it’s really trying to get his own party to coalesce around the plan?  That’s the difficulty.

MS. BARNES:  Well, I think – well, just to step back for a second, I think what the party realizes is what the American people realize – that costs have been going up for families.  People are sitting around their kitchen tables, and they realize, “I can’t pay my premiums.  There’re too many people that don’t” – “are” – “don’t have coverage, and soon, particularly given the unemployment rate, I could be in the same situation.”  We have to get this under control – for families, for small businesses and for the country.

The party has coalesced around this i- — idea.  The Speaker, the Leader – Leader Reid are working together, working with the President and, I think, walked out of the summit at the Blair House recognizing that it’s time to work together to pull the best ideas, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, and get this bill done.

MR. MARTIN:  But from a leadership standpoint, clearly Republicans have made it known where they stand.  The point is Democrats hold a[n] 18-vote margin in the Senate, [a] 78-vote margin in the House.  Now you have a congressman – Stupak, who is now saying – saying that, “Look, if the Senate language” – when it comes to abortion – “is in this bill, we’re not voting for it.  I have 11 other votes.”  They – th- — they only got 217 or so votes the first time around.  The last thing they can afford to do [is] lose more Democrats, and so how do you navigate, and how does the President navigate, the Democratic waters when you still have all these competing interests?  [The] House, frankly, not trusting the Senate, and the Senate – I mean you have all this stuff going back and forth in his home party.

MS. BARNES:  Well, I – first of all, I leave it to the Speaker – Speaker Pelosi – and Leader Reid to count the ro- — to count the votes, and they’re going to do that.  But let’s also realize that both houses of Congress have passed healthcare bills, and that’s historic in and of itself.  In fact, in the Senate, it was by a super majority.  In the House, it was by a majority.  People realize – because the American people want something to be done; and I think everyone’s going to step up, that the votes will be there, and that we will pass historic healthcare reform.

MR. MARTIN:  One of the other issues we’ve talked about, one that’s affecting the American people:  rising healthcare costs, but also rising education.  We saw this week in 33 states around the country college students, professors protesting, going to the streets, opposing the – the dramatic increase in tuition.  At the same time, you have a bill the President has put forth where bankers are fighting, where they want to change – want to change the actual process.  That has stalled as well.  How do you break that impasse?  Do you believe that those same students need to also take their energy and put this issue on their agenda as well and try to make this become a reality?

MS. BARNES:  I think everyone realizes – students, parents, teachers – that this is a critical issue, and certainly the President does.  He has made this one of the top priorities of his administration, because as he said time and time again, if this country is going to compete, we have to make sure our children receive a complete and competitive education and we have the best-trained workforce in the country.  To do that, he set a big goal for the country.  He wants to have the highest proportion of college graduates by the year 2020 anywhere in the world.

To do that, we’ve got to make it easier for kids to go to college.  That’s what this bill is about.  The bill has passed the House of Representatives.  As you said, it’s sitting in the Senate and waiting to go.  I can –

MR. MARTIN:  Li- — like so many –

MS. BARNES:  — tell you –

MR. MARTIN:  — other bills sitting in the Senate.  [Chuckles.]

MS. BARNES:  — I can tell you, having ta- – having spoken with the chairman of – of the Senate committee that has jurisdiction over this issue, that he’s anxious to move forward with it.  And they want to do that – he wants to move it for a couple –

MR. MARTIN:  So, what’s –

MS. BARNES:  — of reasons.

MR. MARTIN:  — the stumbling block?  I mean so – I mean look.  Our folks are watching – and, look, I’ve been championing this issue on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” and this show as well.

MS. BARNES:  Great.  Thank you.


MS. BARNES:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  — what’s the stumbling block?  Who – I mean, frankly, who are they?  I mean are there key folks that folks should be targeting?  Because, clearly, there are folks who will – who are preventing this from moving forward.

MS. BARNES:  Well, no, Roland.  We’ve had an aggressive agenda this year when you think about healthcare, which has ta- — consumed a lot of time, the Senate and the House also moving forward on energy bills, financial regulatory reform.  So, there’s been a very busy agenda.  There is not a stumbling block.  We’re ready to go forward.  We are happy to answer any questions that anyone has, because we realize how important this is.  This bill takes the country from subsidizing banks to do something that can already be done very effectively – in many cases, it is already being done in terms of direct lending.  It ploughs that savings back into the educational system.  It makes sure that we’re increasing Pell grants.  In fact, it’s going to increase the amount of Pell grant awards to make sure that middle-class and low-income students can go to college.  It’s also going to make sure that it’s easier to fill out that financial aid form – you know, the form that looks like a phone book?  You can do that more quickly and easily.  It also invests, historically, in community colleges.  More and more students are going to community colleges, two-year colleges.  It makes it easier for them to do that and better aligns what students are learning there with what employers need people to know when they come out.  And it also helps to make sure that students who enter college, four years later, they walk across that stage, and they get their degree.  And also, I think, something we know is very important:  it makes an his- — historic investment in historically Black colleges and universities.  So, this is a very important le- — piece of legislation.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, how do you counter the argument from senators who s- — who are listening to the banks, and they say, “Look.  You do this, this is” – “this is going to cost upwards of 40,000 jobs, because so many people are involved in this here” – clearly, you’re shaking your head, so you don’t buy it.

MS. BARNES:  No.  I don’t buy it.  I say, “Let’s talk facts.”  The reality is that after this piece of legislation passed the House of Representatives, lenders who had taken jobs overseas realized that to compete, to go through this program, they would have to bring those jobs back to the United States of America.  And they’ve already started doing some.  This piece of legislation will align the needs of students with jobs located in the United States, and it allows for competi- — a competitive process so lenders will have to compete, [provide] better services, and they’ll be able to service these loans.  And we know because the need for loans has increased, that those jobs will actually increase as well.

MR. MARTIN: Well, of course, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote a piece in The Washington Post, and Sallie Mae responded, one of the nation’s largest loan providers.  And this is what they said.

MS. BARNES:  Okay.

MR. MARTIN:  They said they are not lobbying to preserve the current student loan program – although some might disagree.

MS. BARNES:  Um-hum.

MR. MARTIN:  They said – quote – “And in fact, our efforts have been focused on supporting the foundation of the President’s proposal with a few enhancements that will preserve jobs and deliver a better program for students, schools and taxpayers.”  “In fact, our efforts have been focused on supporting the founda-“ – “the foundation of the President’s proposal.”

What do you say to that?  I mean ha- — have they actually been trying to make modifications to it, or are they one of the major folks trying to get it – using their lobbyists to get in the way to not make this happen?

MS. BARNES:  For several years, the United States government has been supporting the lending industry during shaky times, during periods when students have wondered whether or not they were going to get a loan.  What the President said as a senator and what he said as a President is we shouldn’t be subsidizing the banks to do what we can do more effectively, and allow them to compete to service these loans.  So, in a proposal that still continues – still requests that the United States subsidize banks to do something we can already do – that isn’t a shift to something new, more competitive and more efficient.  That’s the same ol’ same ol’.

MR. MARTIN:  Republicans say that’s a bigger – or, even some Democratic – Democratic critics say, “Oh, this is another government entitlement program.  You’re making government bigger.”

MS. BARNES:  And what I would say to that is, why are we asking the taxpayers to pay for s- — pay for something – $87 billion worth of something – that can be done more efficiently as – elsewhere?  And if we believe in a market-based system, we also me- — that also means we believe in competition.  We say to the lenders, “Come, compete for the business.  Compete to service these loans.  Show us how you’re preventing students from defaulting.  Show us how you’re going to keep students in school and make sure that they have access to the financial resources that they need.”  The best lenders will be able to do that.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  So, anybody watching at home – what – what should they be doing?

MS. BARNES:  I would say get the information, look at the website, think about what’s most important, and certainly be engaged in this debate.  This is something that’s important to American families – to middle-class families and to low-income families – because it’s going to make sure that our kids are going to college and that they’re more competitive in the workforce.

MR. MARTIN:  Melody Barnes, thanks a bunch.  Look forward to your next visit to “Washington Watch.”

MS. BARNES:  Great.  I look forward to it, too.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  I also look forward to seeing you on the golf course.

MS. BARNES:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  Before we get to our next guest, here’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who participated with Melody in a White House online Q&A session this week on this very topic.  Secretary Duncan answers a question about HBCUs and their role in preparing half of America’s teachers.



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