This week much time was spent trying to find a way forward on the student loan issue. Interest rates on subsidized Stafford student college loans increased from 3.4 percent to their original rate of 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013.
On Wednesday, I voted against a short-term patch offered by Senate Democrats that reduces student loan rates for only 40 percent of newly-issued loans and only for one year. Instead, I have co-sponsored a bipartisan plan that permanently reduces loan rates for 100 percent of federal student loans and gives students and parents predictability. I urged Democratic Leader Reid, D-Nev., to allow our commonsense proposal to come to the floor.
Later in the day, another bipartisan deal was proposed on new federal student loans that would make rates vary with the market. However, the price tag from the Congressional Budget Office has caused the key negotiators to return to the table and continue work.
Last week, the Obama administration announced that after hearing concerns from the business community, it will delay implementation of a key ObamaCare component, the employer mandate, until 2015. On Wednesday, Sen. Chambliss and I joined all 44 of our Republican colleagues in the Senate in a letter to President Obama calling on him to permanently delay the implementation of the so-called "Affordable Care Act" for all Americans.
One of my committee assignments, the Senate Finance Committee, has jurisdiction over ObamaCare because the Supreme Court upheld the law last year by designating it as a tax. I also serve on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees health care and the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, I have voted several times to repeal ObamaCare and various provisions of the law.
In the letter, we wrote, "[W]hile your action finally acknowledges some of the many burdens this law will place on job creators, we believe the rest of this law should be permanently delayed for everyone in order to avoid significant economic harm to American families."
The Obama administration also announced that it is lowering the standards for verifying the income of those seeking a government subsidy to pay for their health care. This will weaken the integrity of ObamaCare and likely will result in many more Americans receiving a government subsidy, increasing the overall cost to taxpayers. It is yet another sign that the administration is not ready to implement this disastrous law.
Atlanta VA Medical Center
Recent reports from the VA Inspector General have highlighted problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. The reports link three suicides to mismanagement at the hospital, and that is both tragic and heartbreaking.
While I believe the VA is committed to addressing this issue, I have asked the VA to take the necessary steps to maximize its resources to prevent more suicides and reverse this alarming trend.
Though the VA and the hospital have responded in some capacity and have taken steps to fix this unacceptable mismanagement, we must be vigilant and follow up thoroughly. We also must know whether similar incidents are happening elsewhere around the country. To that end, I have worked with the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs to schedule an Aug. 7 field hearing in Atlanta to address the issues at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, as well as to discuss how mental health care must be a part of a comprehensive approach to caring for veterans.
I hope this field hearing will not only demonstrate the hospital has executed a plan to address its failures outlined in the Inspector General report, but will expose best practices for providing care to our veterans so we can stem the tide of suicides. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published my op-ed on this issue, "Keeping promises to our service members," today.
What's on Tap?
All 100 senators will meet Monday evening in the Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol to discuss Democratic Leader Reid's proposal to weaken the Senate filibuster when it comes to confirming the president's Cabinet-level and agency nominees. Reid's proposal would lower the number of votes necessary to end debate on a Cabinet-level or agency nominee from 60 votes to 51. Normally, Senate rule changes such as this require 67 votes to pass. Reid knows he doesn't have 67 votes for this severe rule change so he is considering pushing through a series of votes that would result in allowing the rule change to pass with just a simple majority of 51 votes. It is being referred to as the "nuclear option" because it would destroy Senate tradition and severely limit debate for whichever party is in the minority in the Senate. I oppose this procedural move that would have major consequences for both parties going forward.