La Jolla, Ca- The emergence of America’s first political parties in the late 1700’s; the Democratic- Republicans, and the Federalists, was the result of deep constitutional disagreements between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Before the 1st Continental Congress had even convened, both men had already moved away from attacking each other’s political policies, and had moved to slandering one another. Very soon after the parties emerged, George Washington, during his farewell address prophetically warned the nation from embracing the idea political parties based on geography, as it would alienate those, who should hold brotherly affection towards one another.
Indeed, in preparation for the upcoming November 4th midterm-elections, red and blue battle lines have been drawn along district lines of San Diego, and the unprecedented level of partisan strong-arming, and deep socio-political divisions, have many expecting yet another mean-spirited and bitter and bitter election cycle. Representing California’s 52nd congressional district in San Diego this November, Democrat Scott Peters has consistently been an advocate for bi-partisan reform, rejecting the notion that bickering and in- fighting are a part of human nature. As a very rare proof of concept, he recently joined hands with Republicans Darrel Issa and Duncan Hunter to pass H.R. 683, a bill which would protect religious minorities in Iraq from ISIL. Also, he recently joined as 1 of only 5 Democrats to be allowed membership in the U.S. Changer of Commerce, which has historically been solidly Republican. While he certainly holds the ‘incumbency advantage, local students are less concerned with ISIL, as they are with the un-certain futures of their educational and professional careers. To that end, he will have to convince college voters, that beyond a strong desire to enact student loan reform; he actually has the ability to rally bi-partisan support for his reform bills.
Recently, Congressman Peters took the opportunity to invite journalists from UCSD, San Diego’s 3 law schools, and local community colleges to a round-table interview, held in La Jolla. It was a valuable opportunity for Peters to directly address college students, towards whom much of his recent legislative efforts have been targeted. For Peters, the need for student loan repayment reform is clear, yet he admits, that it will be very difficult to pass any important bills through at least this congress. “I ran for congress in 2011 because we saw congress totally get stopped...I think we got a long way to go... this congress has been, I think among the least productive Congresses in history... So even something we have wide agreement on...we can’t get a vote on.”
Peters may be on to something; as Congress’ official website (Congress.gov), by its own action reports and bill summaries, is on track become the least productive congress in U.S. history. In 2013, Peters attempted student loan reform, but his efforts were almost immediately stalled in Republican controlled House Ways and Means committee and the House Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. So far, this year Peters has introduced the Student Loan Refinancing Act of 2014 (H.R. 4622) which would call on the Secretary of Education to automatically lower all federal student loans to 4 %, and the Student Loan Repayment Act of 2014 (H.R. 5399) which would give incentives to employers to help repay their employee’s student loans to help speed up the repayment process. However, the Congressman has little faith that his congressional colleagues will work together to get either bill passed this year.
The legislative process is indeed, a purposely arduous process, especially with politically divisive issues. Reducing the $1.2 Trillion outstanding student debt, which the Federal Consumer Protection Bureau now lists as the second highest source of consumer debt is a national issue, affecting the children of both Democrats and Republicans. Explaining one possible solution to the gridlock, Peters explained that, “I don’t have a lot of control over that, because it’s the Speaker of the House who decides what gets on to the floor.”
To put into perspective where congress is, and how far it has dropped, take into consideration the law, which a few of Congressman Peters’ resolutions would have been amended had they passed. When the 89th Congress of the United States of America passed the Higher Education Act of 1965 (H.R. 9567) in a landslide 313-63 roll-call victory, Peters was only 7 years old. In 1972, when it was re- authorized, the representative of California’s 52nd District, was only a few years away from attending college. Due to the federal-aid he received, he would eventually go on to work as an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency for 15 years. An attorney, who is also a product of federal student loans, certainly can empathize with TJSL students, but empathy only goes so far against the stubborn and powerful.
The nature of our political system has changed quite a bit since 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson signed H.R. 9567 into law. The triumph and sense of entitlement many politicians get from being difficult for its own sake, was not nearly as pervasive, as it is now. The world in which Congressman Peters spent his childhood; where 91% of Democrats, and 66% of Republicans, put their differences aside to pass H.R. 9567; does not exist anymore.
Instead voters are threatened with government shut downs members of congress don’t like each other, valid political discourse has been replaced by ad hoc mud-slinging, and whether attributed as the cause of or the result of; voter apathy is too high to care about relevant issues...let alone President Obama treacherous act of giving a military salute with a cup of coffee in his hands. Congressman Peters’ efforts are well intended, and his record shows that he will almost surely continue to fight for what he believes in, as he should. One part of the bi-partisan philosophy Peters engenders however, is the ability to compromise. That type of compromise is similar to what was left of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, as congressman and woman on both sides nit-picked and tore at the bill (and each other), until their respective parties were satisfied.