Gridlock remains: On major fronts, Congress still fails the people

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Despite the Senate compromise Tuesday on lifting filibusters on White House nominees, the inactivity of Congress in meeting the needs of the nation may have hit rock bottom.

Last week three issues requiring action were immigration reform, college loan rates and the so-called farm bill.

On immigration, a jumble of rules, some obsolete legislation and changing times have left 11 million U.S. residents in limbo. They are impossible to deport and have no viable road to citizenship. Instead, lawmakers and their campaign donors are eager to build more walls along the Mexican border.

A bipartisan bill passed by the Senate offers a road out of the swamp, but Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, condemned it, taking pride in their opposition. They did this aware of the likelihood that the party would pay a price in the 2014 elections from the growing number of Hispanic-American voters. Never mind the country's immigrant heritage.

The second congressional fumble occurred on student loan rates. It is remarkable that, while America needs to rebuild its own economy and compete better globally, Congress could not rescind the doubling of the interest rate on federal Stafford loans, which jumped from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Republicans want to tie the interest to a commercial rate, in effect putting more money into the hands of bankers and other lenders and taking it out of the hands of needy students and their families. The only rational explanation is that the banks are the ones that bear the risk and the borrowing that is not paid back.

The final insult came in the farm bill. Normally the measure is a devil's bargain of huge subsidies for big, industrial growers combined with food stamps for the poor. This time House Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on how much in food stamps needed to be part of the package, so they passed a bill with the subsidies in and food stamps left out.

This congressional folly occurs when the number of Americans qualifying for food stamps has gone up substantially, beginning with the recession in 2008 and continuing through the slow recovery. Unfortunately, more than 15 percent of the Americans who are poor -- and eligible for food stamps -- are children.

Add them to the list of others -- students and immigrants -- whom Congress failed to serve last week.



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