One signature, two historic reforms

ONE SIGNATURE, TWO HISTORIC REFORMS…. It wasn’t quite as historic a bill signing as last week, but it was in the ballpark.

With the stroke of a pen this morning, President Obama accomplished two of his administration’s major goals. First, he put the finishing touches on health care reform — stripping the law he signed last week of some of its most controversial elements, while strengthening several others. Second, he enacted one of the major goals he set forth during the presidential campaign: student loan reform.

“This week we can rightly say, the foundation on which America’s future will be built is stronger than it was one year ago,” Obama said moments ago before a crowd at Northern Virginia Community College.

On health care, the budget fixes are key. While much of the attention has been focused on the elimination of special side deals (i.e., the “Cornhusker Kickback”), the reconciliation package signed into law today also improves subsidy rates for the middle class, delays implementation (and alters eligibility) of the excise tax, closes the Medicare “donut hole,” and requires insurers to allow young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until they’re 26.

But let’s also not overlook the importance of overhaul federal student loan programs. In a normal year, success on this front would itself be a major legislative victory, but it’s been largely overshadowed of late because it was included in the health care package.

Nevertheless, the student loan provisions signed into law today are huge. A $40 billion boost in Pell Grants, a streamlined loan process, saving taxpayers billions, caps on what students will have to pay after graduation, loan forgiveness for veterans after 10 years — this breakthrough legislation will make a dramatic impact in the lives of millions.

Democrats have wanted to pass this for decades, but it was always just out of reach. There was a real possibility that lobbyists would intervene again this year and kill the proposal once more. Thanks to the reconciliation process, success came together just a few weeks ago.

The president described both achievements as “two major victories in one week that will improve lives of our people for generations to come.” It’s a bold claim that happens to be true.