Last Tuesday, voters across the country went to the polls and voted for divided government. With the White House still occupied by a Democrat, and both houses of Congress now run by a party whose main goal has been to obstruct the president, opportunities for bipartisanship seem elusive.
We believe, however, that there is no need to waste the next two years with petty political infighting and gridlock. In fact, there are several issues where President Obama and Congressional Republicans can and should find common ground to do good for the American people.
Student Debt. Student loan debt is a national crisis, and it’s one that personally affects many of us at Penn. What many people don’t know is that there are easy steps we can take to start fixing the problem. Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced legislation to help students out by letting them refinance their high-interest loans at today’s far lower rates. The bill is a no brainer; it gives a financial break to those most in need of one.
The catch is that student loans are in fact a highly lucrative endeavor for the federal government. Washington is actually extracting profits off of those students most vulnerable to financial hardships, so refinancing would cause the federal government to lose revenue. To make up for this loss, Senator Warren proposed slightly raising taxes on those whose annual income exceeds one million dollars—a provision Congressional Republicans found unacceptable. As a result, the bill has been blocked and stalled.
It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to get back to the negotiating table on this proposal. Democrats must consider alternative funding mechanisms for the bill, and Republicans must give a little ground on their absolutist position against raising any new revenue. This issue is simply too important to ignore.
The Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is one of the government’s most important and successful anti-poverty measures. It rewards low- to moderate-income workers and their families with a refundable tax credit that puts money back in the hands of those who are struggling to work in difficult financial conditions. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that by itself, the tax keeps 10.1 million people, including 5.3 million children, out of poverty each year.
Democrats and Republicans alike recognize the value of this policy and want to expand its scope to help out even more people who need a tax break. Both President Obama and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan have unveiled proposals to expand the credit, but they have been unable to agree on how to pay for it.
In the next two years, President Obama and Rep. Ryan need to figure it out. A tax policy that rewards hard work and keeps children out of poverty appeals to both conservatives and progressives; failing to expand the program because of logistics is unacceptable.
Immigration Reform. Thankfully, there has been some progress in this area. Over a year ago, the Senate passed—with bipartisan support—a comprehensive immigration reform package crafted by an even number of Democrats and Republicans. But since then, Republicans have been, to put it diplomatically, twiddling their thumbs.
They have no excuse now. The midterm elections are over, and Speaker of the House John Boehner doesn’t have to protect his caucus from voting on controversial issues. The bill still has majority support in both houses of Congress, and President Obama remains on board. There’s no excuse for delaying any further—not when there are millions of lives and livelihoods at stake.
Now that Republicans are in control of Congress, it’s time for them to decide how they will act moving forward. The party whose sole purpose over the past six years has been to thwart President Obama has succeeded. Nevertheless, the president has shown, and reiterated in his post-election-night speech, a willingness to reach across the aisle and pass bipartisan initiatives. Refusal by the GOP to sit down and talk with him would consign the American people to continued conflict and gridlock–an unappealing outcome to say the least.
Republicans have shown they can obstruct. Now it’s time to show they can get to work.