President Obama Signs Education and Health Care Bill at NOVA
By: KJ Mushung
Newspaper Training Director
By 6:30 a.m., the line to the door of Tyler Building was already past the parking garage and up the hill toward Bisdorf. Although the doors would not open for another three hours and the event would not begin for four-and-a-half, the crowd of people arrived, dressed in their best, and waited patiently for their chance to witness history.
President Barack Obama arrived at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus March 30 to sign the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 in front of about 1,000 students, educators and members of congress.
The reconciliation act contains several new provisions from the bill that Obama signed into law earlier in March. One of the changes caps the maximum loan repayment to 10 percent of a person’s annual income. Another is a 10-year deal that allows people to serve the community as a teacher, nurse or in the Armed Services for 10 years and only have to repay their loans for 10 years, instead of the 20 years it usually takes.
Nate Bronstein, a political science major at American University and student body president-elect, said, “For the first time in a while you’ve really some major thought given out directly to the students.”
Bronstein plans to take advantage of the 10-year deal, if he can. “I’m all deep in debt because of student loans.”
“As a student and student body president, I have a strong interest in seeing progress for education,” said Andy MacCracken, the current student body president at American University, about why he came to the signing.
“I don’t plan on becoming a corporate lawyer after college. I definitely am looking at the 10-year loan forgiveness,” he added. MacCracken said he believes the reconciliation act will allow poor students to go to college and go down the career path that they want instead of choosing a career path with guaranteed money to pay off loans.
As the audience waited patiently for their chance to witness history, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived. Pelosi received applause as she and more than a dozen special guests walked onto the stage and settled into their chairs by the podium inside the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center.
The five-member Tempered Brass orchestra, which included NOVA music teacher Dr. Wendy Matthews on trumpet, adeptly played both delicate and patriotic classical music for the crowd as it waited for the president to make an appearance. The rest of the ensemble included Jeff Swearingen on horn, Ray Matthews on trumpet, Jeannette Essig on trombone and Bob Pallansch on tuba.
The president, along with Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife who teaches English at the Alexandria campus of NOVA, arrived together to a standing ovation at 11 a.m.
Biden spoke mostly about being a teacher at a community college and how essential education is to a person’s future.
“I have seen firsthand the power of community colleges to change lives and serve as a gateway to opportunity for students at all stages of their lives and careers.”
The president’s speech was brief, only about 30 minutes long. He gave some bullet points on what the bill will change but also emphasized that it won’t fix all of health care’s woes in one fell swoop.
Both Obama and Biden gave props to community colleges for providing communities with relatively affordable education. Obama also spoke of greatly increasing the number of Pell Grants offered and caps on student loan repayments.
“Last week, our president signed an historic health care bill that will provide quality, affordable medical care for millions of Americans. Today, we are here to celebrate another historic piece of legislation, one that will make college education a reality for millions of middle-class Americans,” said Biden. “Higher education is essential to the success of our children and vital to the economic future of our country. But too many American families, they’ve had to take on crushing debt to pursue a college degree.”
“The reforms in this bill are significant, but they’re just part of a broader effort to strengthen our entire higher education system,” said Obama, who added that, in addition to financial reforms for education, steps have been taken to simplify the federal college assistance form “because it shouldn’t take a Ph.D., to apply for financial aid.”
After giving his speech, Obama strode over to a small, dark-wood table with the presidential seal on it and signed the bill, to thunderous applause.
A full video of Obama’s speech is available at NVCC-TV.
By: KJ Mushung