Local Commentary

Jim Moran

Congress is poised to act on two important pieces of legislation this week. The first will be to make achieving a college education less expensive and the second will be to end government welfare for big oil companies.

The cost of going to college is at an all-time high. According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, college tuition is increasing more rapidly than the inflation rate, personal incomes, consumer prices and even the cost of health insurance. In the last five years, tuition, room and board increased by a whopping 44 percent.

Instead of working to reduce the costs of higher education, the 109th Congress ignored these concerns and actually chose to further increase the cost of obtaining a higher degree. In a move counter to the will of the American people, the Republican-controlled Congress raised interest rates on student loans, from 5.3 percent to 6.8 percent.

Fortunately, the days when people with those sorts of misplaced priorities were in control of Congress are gone. Under newly elected Speaker Pelosi’s direction, Congress is preparing to make carrying college debt easier by cutting – instead of raising — the interest rate on student loans by half.

Known as the “College Student Relief Act,” this bill would reduce the student loan interest rate from the current 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Once fully enacted, the typical borrower carrying $17,500 in federal student loan debt would save approximately $5,600 over the life of the loan. Nearly 90 percent of the American public supports the cutting of student loan interest rates. The health of our economy depends on having a highly-skilled and well-educated workforce and the new 110th Congress is prepared to lead the way.

Speaker Pelosi and the 110th Congress are also committed to blazing a trail for energy independence. Oil companies are reaping record profits these days. In 2006, the big five oil companies made $97 billion – nearly five times their profits in 2002. At the same time, prices at the pump topped $3 a gallon. Does it make sense to keep giving government handouts to big oil companies when they are making record profits? Neither I nor a majority of my colleagues in the 110th Congress believe that it does.

In an effort to end this form of corporate welfare, Congress is prepared to pass the “CLEAN Energy Act.” This legislation would repeal approximately $14 billion in subsidies to big oil companies and in turn, invest those funds in research and development of clean renewable energy and energy efficiency practices.

Subsidies slated for elimination include closing a tax loophole that has allowed big oil to qualify for a tax provision intended to encourage domestic manufacturing, ending tax breaks for oil exploration studies and discontinuing royalty relief for oil and gas companies operating the Gulf of Mexico.

Ending our country’s addiction to oil is critical to bolstering our national security and stopping global warming. But it’s going to take more than just words from the bully pulpit to make it happen. With passage of the CLEAN Energy Act, the 110th Congress is taking the first steps necessary for our country to reach energy independence by promoting clean, renewable energy that’s better for the environment, the economy and our long-term security.