It is one thing for our Congressman, Mike Capuano, to vote for the Health Care bill. It is quite another for him to have inserted into that bill a benefit that will give nearly 100,000 of his constituents from $200 to $700 a month for the next ten years, at no public cost, while doing it. That took genuine genius. And it took precisely the kind of genius that those thousands of emails and phone calls nagging for the health care vote ought to respect – now and in the future.
As recently as March 10, the New York Times reported that the Student Loan bill was in trouble – with some of those same Senate Democrats who now face voting for that bill in order to support health care reform. Check it out here http://tinyurl.com/yazspz7. Realize that Mike’s district, embracing most of Northeastern, all of Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Lesley, Emerson, BU and parts of BC, and the Fenway colleges, has the highest concentration of graduate and undergraduate students on the planet, well over 100,000. Also recognize that most either don’t vote or vote at home, since those are national universities rather than local. Yet the ones who stay – and they are many, particularly in the first few years – are the most likely new voters and remain loyal for decades once started in the Democratic Party. In fact, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is the likely source for most of the progressives in politics since, oh, around 1950 or so, just as the Massachusetts Republicans were up until and including Henry Cabot Lodge and Frank Sargent (perhaps even Bill Weld).
Register that virtually all college loans are guaranteed or direct from the federal government, and that those that are guaranteed hold the “front” bank harmless from failed payments. And that the Republicans have, for decades, argued that such guarantees are critical to increasing the volume of aid, although … quite thoroughly … there has been little or no additional student aid made available through these guarantees. In other words, the guarantees only pay the bank and do not pay your loan! You’re still stuck. And the banks have made you stuck regardless of bankruptcy.
If you can follow this this far, you should also realize that our Congressman is on the Financial Services Committee, which has a unique oversight over that loan system. The reform which was “in trouble” on March 10 would have eliminated the subsidy to the banks and increased the overall volume of student grants and loans considerably. It would invest what we – as a nation – now pay the banks in students themselves, and increase both loan and grant amounts accordingly. No wonder those banks were ready to “do the nasty” to such a bill: they would lose a golden egg. And no wonder OUR Congressman knew and tracked the laying of such an egg.
What is real genius is to slip that egg into the Health Care bill. First, it’s an act of genius because the Senate now has no choice but to approve the bill. Putting it in “reconciliation” means that it will not be subject to amendments, and so the banks and their henchmen have no leverage whatsoever. Second, it’s an act of greater genius since it impacts his district more than any other, at no public expense at all, while also transforming the second largest industry in his district – health, health care planning and prevention. He has not only isolated the opposition – those same banks who prey on college loans – but he’s liberated thousands of his constituents from years of over-priced college loan payments. At no cost to the public.
How did he do so much? Well, he held out. While hundreds or thousands of liberal – but uninformed – constituents and reactionary teabaggers called and emailed his office, he negotiated this huge – really quite dramatic – change on behalf of more of his constituents – who almost never vote while he represents them – than any previous Congressional delegate, including a Speaker and three Kennedys.
Think of this genius while you also celebrate how well he negotiated protections for our state’s MassHealth, which was also in serious jeopardy in the course of this recent debate. There are 435 seats in the House, and I would be very, very surprised if any other got as much for his or her district. In both health – the obvious – and in education, Congressman Capuano has set a bar few, if any elected representative could ever match. When you add $1billion for the Green Line, a concurrent discussion of 1 Gigabyte telecommunication speed through Google, this district is clearly distinct and one of the most powerful distinctions is its Congressman. Those who complained about his late “conversion” to health care should recognize what that timing really produced.