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A Student Regards the Senate Student Loan Agreement
Posted By: Sharon Koss - 07/24/13

As a student currently applying for loans to attend my final year of college, I ask Congress to please help today’s students by not helping. On July 1, 2013, the 3.4 percent federal student loan interest rate expired and the rate returned to 6.8 percent. The Senate is now taking up the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, passed by the House, that would tie federal loans to the 10-year Treasury note borrowing rate plus varying rates based on the type of loan with interest rate caps starting at 8.5 percent. A bipartisan substitute amendment tweaks the House language to postpone the immediate rate hike, allow students to lock in interest rates, and even manages to find some meager savings. While this compromise does allow the free market to place a heavier influence on interest rates, it does not completely remove the government from the student loan process..

Over time, achieving a bachelor’s degree has become conflated with the “American Dream,” propped up by politicians who advocate for making college cheaper through subsidizing and capping loans. However, the Heritage Foundation points out that the government is not pulling from its own stash of money but is requiring that taxpayers pay $6 billion each year, the current annual cost of the loan policies over the past six years, saving students on average only $7 per month. The money comes from taxpayers to fund the 30 percent of Americans who go to college. That means that the 70 percent of Americans who work blue collar jobs at construction sites, grocery stores, or power plants pay for the selected few.

Rather than making college more affordable, a Cato study shows that increasing federal aid has made college more expensive. While federal aid tripled, the average cost for public and private schools went up 42 and 31 percent respectively. Artificially distorting the real cost of a college degree is also resulting in many high school students deciding to take out loans to pursue degrees that have very limited market value upon graduation. Greater numbers of people entering the workforce out of college means higher competition for post-graduate jobs. Degree holders must compete for lower paying jobs or end up taking jobs which may not have required a degree – and the “reward” is to be saddled with overwhelming debt. Put simply, more graduates devalue the importance of a college education.

What people should be worried about is the graduation rate, which is distressingly low. Only 54 percent of those who enter four-year colleges complete their education within six years. These low graduation rates can be partially attributed to a distorted understanding of the risks involved with college. To many, it is viewed as a rite of passage rather than a serious educational endeavor requiring a copious amount of studying and hard work. NTU’s Nan Swift earlier remarked:

Taxpayer-funded subsidies that keep student loan rates artificially low have had the extremely negative impact of both inflating the cost of college degrees and opening the floodgates to a host of students with a higher risk of default or who are ill-prepared for the academic rigors of higher education. These students would have avoided taking on the enormous debt increasingly associated with a college degree where it not for the abundance of cheap credit at taxpayer expense.

The amended Smarter Solutions for Students Act is a compromise which many Members of both parties in the Senate, House Republicans, and the administration all agree on.  The Brookings Institution even acknowledges that:

When you let Congress set the rate and then the market moves around that rate, the market rate and the student loan rate set by Congress get completely out of whack…So tying it to the market rate fixes that problem.

Still, the legislation has considerable drawbacks. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this bill is projected to reduce the deficit by a net amount of $715 million over a ten-year period. Setting aside the controversy among primarily left-of-center commentators over whether government should “profit” from the student loan business, it’s important to read what’s behind CBO’s topline estimate. For one, offsetting savings don’t begin to occur until 2017; spend now, save later is a familiar feature of many proposals in Washington. Furthermore, CBO’s numbers don’t use “fair value” scoring assumptions, which better account for market risk in credit programs. Thus, deficit-neutrality may turn out to be an illusion.

In the end, therefore, passing this piece of legislation represents only a modest step in the right direction for taxpayers’ wallets, for the national deficit, and for reducing artificial control over interest rates. As the compromise bill is voted on in the Senate today, Congress and the administration have a chance to allow prices to rise and fall more closely with market conditions. As bipartisan support for student loan reform grows, perhaps one day we’ll be able to get Washington out of this business entirely.

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Student Loan Deadline Passed, Now What?
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 07/01/13

If you have been following the news out of Washington, DC over the last week or two, one thing really stands out: legislators had until today, July 1st, to reach an agreement on extending federal subsidized student loan interest rates or see them double to 6.8 percent. That deadline has come and gone (Congress left town for an early start to the Fourth of July holiday) but what does that actually mean? NTUF analysts have already written about how student loans are funded by the federal government or what the different types of loans there are. Below I’ve listed some myths that I kept hearing repeated by politicians, advocates, and everyday Americans.

Myth: The interest rate increase was a surprise.

Not True. If you recall, last year, Americans faced the same scenario (with much the same rhetoric of impending doom for life as we know it). President Obama and Members of Congress enacted a short stopgap measure before ultimately passing legislation to continue the funding for the lower rates until today. Everyone involved knew this day would come and had (or rather, continue to have) time to address the situation, though solutions can take different forms.

Myth: Doubling the interest rate will mean double the repayments.

Absolutely Not True. I have unfortunately heard this mostly come from alarmist Members of Congress. According to many sources, including the Brookings Institution and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), an increase of interest rates for subsidized loans will mean a higher per month payment requirement once those students graduate. How much? The Joint Economic Committee reported that college students will have to pay an average $2,600 more over the course of the life of the loan. Spanning over years, that could be $20 or $50 but CBO found that it averaged out to be a $38 increase per month (assuming the loan is repaid over ten years). Though I would not welcome such an increase in repayment costs, it is a marginal change nonetheless.

Myth: Extending the lower interest rate is no cost to taxpayers.

No & It Gets Worse. CBO scored a basic two-year extension of just the subsidized student loan interest rates as an $8.3 billion cost spread out over four years. Currently, the income from interest and loan repayments is projected to net the government $6 billion in FY 2013 BUT the spending will soon outweigh the income. As explained in The Taxpayer’s Tab, administrators borrow money by issuing U.S. Treasury securities and use the new money as loan capital and subsidies. This system works as long as loan interest is higher than securities interest. However, by 2018, the interest on new debt will be quite close to set interest rates (and when you account for administrative costs ($15 billion over ten years, you’re no longer in the black). Simply put, if the government keeps borrowing at this rate, student loans will quickly become a liability for taxpayers, who would be footing the bill for a bailout if it comes to that.

http://www.ntu.org/ntuf/taxpayerstab/4-21.html

Myth: There is nothing anyone can do now.

All Is Not Lost. With the deadline passing only today, legislators could come back from their break and pass legislation that could do a number of things for student loans, including:

  • Simply Extend Lower Interest Rates, an $8.3 billion new cost.
  • Extend Lower Interest Rates With Conditions, some legislation is calling for revenue increases while others seek spending offsets to make the extension revenue neutral.
  • Find Other Sources of Funding, one bill would require the Federal Reserve to expand its ledger and take on new student loans, CBO has not released an estimate for Rep Tierney’s and Senator Warren’s bill.
  • Peg All Loans at Changing Interest Rates, Senator Coburn’s measure would lock rates in at securities interest plus three percent for administrative costs, a $32 billion new cost (but ultimately a net $15.6 billion savings over ten years).
  • Make Rates Change with the Economy, House Republicans passed a bill to peg rates according to economic conditions, a $330 million new cost (but an eventual $3.7 billion savings in ten years).

There are resources on the web for students to consider their options, like this one by Brookings. However, students need to understand the market conditions they live in and how their borrowing affects the economy. I encourage all students to do their best to get scholarships and get the grades they need to better their initial standing in higher institutions. But if going to college is too expensive, other options exist that are just as viable. Tech and certificate programs, community college, and simply working now to go to school later are considerations highlighted by not only CBO but parents who are likely expected to shoulder some of the cost of their child getting a higher education. They also need to understand the financial committment of possibly failing in their academic venture. Don't believe me?  A third of student loan borrowers never earned a degree.

Here's to hoping that students are more skeptical when hearing these myths, especially when their financial futures are on the line.

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Federal Student Loans: A Summary
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/13/13

In anticipation of both more heated debates in Congress on whether or not to extend lower interest rates for incoming college students and a feature in this week’s Taxpayer’s Tab newsletter, I put together a quick reference to show exactly what loans are in question and what other loans are available to students.

The federal government offers many forms of financial assistance for college education, but a large portion of that help -- approximately $106 billion each year -- comes in the form of loans. While some loans are given to students based on financial need, others are issued with only the personal needs and considerations of the applicant. While some loans are given to students based on financial need, others are issued on an individualized, case-by-case basis that takes into account personal considerations of the applicant. Some students choose to forego full- or part-time employment during college and instead supplement their living expenses with loans. Though there are other options, such as private loans and Pell grants, government-backed student loans come in three forms:

  • Subsidized: Granted only to undergraduate students based on financial need with a lifetime borrowing limit of $23,000. While the student is in school (or does not have a deferment), interest does not accrue until after graduation (or until their deferment runs out).
    • Current Interest Rate: 3.4%
    • Interest Rate after July 1st: 6.8%
  • Unsubsidized: Offered to students pursuing either undergraduate or post-graduate degrees, these loans do accrue interest while the student is in school, but the loans are not based on financial need, allowing recipients to use the funds as they see fit. Borrowing limits vary (between $31,000 and $138,500) according to the level of educational degree (undergraduates receive less compared to graduate and professional students).
    • Interest Rate Currently and after July 1st: 6.8%
  • PLUS loans: Used to supplement parents of dependent students and graduate students who have passed the limits of Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. These loans are not based on financial need. Similar to Unsubsidized loans, interest accrues immediately after being issued. There is no lifetime borrowing limit but has annual limits.
    • Interest Rate Currently and after July 1st: 7.9%

For a more detailed (though wonk-ish) summary, check out this great report by the Congressional Budget Office.

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Reid Hijacks Senate to Rush Student Loan Bill
Posted By: Nan Swift - 05/17/13

There he goes again.

Only a week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to rammed the Marketplace “Fairness” Act through the Senate, he is once again circumventing normal order and thereby avoiding the legislative and public scrutiny of hearings, mark-ups, and other aspects of the committee process that risk derailing his agenda.  Those who remember their high school civics class will recall that the Senate is supposed to be the chamber of deliberation where, as George Washington supposedly said, House legislation is “cooled” like hot tea in a saucer. The Harry Reid Senate is more tea kettle than saucer these days as legislation is being rushed through without the full consideration such policies deserve. Thanks to more shenanigans, it looks like taxpayers are about to get burned.

The new bill at hand is S. 953, which would amend the Higher Education Act of 1956 to extend reduced interest rates for Stafford loans. While it’s old news that college graduates (myself included) are often saddled with large student loan debts, further extending the below-market interest rate of 3.4 percent won’t fix that problem, and could exacerbate sky-rocketing higher education costs.  Federally subsidized student loans distort the loan market; inflating the price of college, and encouraging young people to accumulate debt while hiding the risk involved in such transactions.

As I wrote earlier this year in response to the President’s State of the Union Address:

Over the past ten-plus years, the average cost of a year of undergraduate tuition, room, and board at a public university rose 42 percent and the same costs at a private college or university rose 31 percent.  Around the same time, federal aid tripled from $10 billion in FY 2000 to $30 billion in FY 2008! Taxpayer-funded subsidies that keep student loan rates artificially low have had the extremely negative impact of both inflating the cost of college degrees and opening the floodgates to a host of students with a higher risk of default or who are ill-prepared for the academic rigors of higher education. These students would have avoided taking on the enormous debt increasingly associated with a college degree where it not for the abundance of cheap credit at taxpayer expense.

Rather than extending the harmful government meddling in the student loan market, Congress should be looking at ways to get out of the higher ed. business. Congress has been taking small, but important steps toward real reform and privatization in a similar area, federal flood insurance, and should consider a comparable path forward for student loans. A good place to start is letting the interest rate go up so that the true costs and risks involved are no longer hidden by price manipulation.

The bill sponsors, Senators Reed  (D-RI) and Harkin (D-IA) like to point out that this bill is “fully funded” in order to project an aura of fiscal discipline – but instead of cutting spending to pay for this outlay, they’ve resorted to convoluted tax gimmicks to increase revenues.

It requires time to carefully analyze bills that contain complex policies and employ complicated tax measures. This is why normal order is so crucial. When the regular, deliberate process is ignored, taxpayers can be pretty sure it means bad news.

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State of Education
Posted By: Nan Swift - 02/19/13

President Obama covered a lot of ground in his annual State of the Union (SOTU) address last week. Very little was anything we haven’t heard before, not only from the current administration but also from administrations before. This was particularly true when it came to his remarks on education. Sadly, for taxpayers, families, and perhaps most of all – children – these barely reheated ideas are both extremely costly and ineffective. When Washington continues to insist on adhering to expensive myths to set policy it exacts a high price from our economy for the sake of a fallacy, making it ever harder to set a new course for the future. This is all the more difficult when it comes to anything “for the children,” who, unfortunately, end up paying the most for these populist ideas both now and when our debts come due.

Here are two big myths regarding the State of Education as told by President Obama (full speech text here):

Education Myth #1:  Preschool for All

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. 

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.   – President Obama, SOTU 2013

America already has such a program, it’s called Head Start. Founded in 1965, it targets low-income children, ages 3-5, and their families. This sounds like a great thing, but there’s one big, big catch best summed up by Time’s Joe Klein in 2011:

We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

The 2010 study Klein references was comprised of nearly 5,000 new, entering 3 and 4 year olds spread across 84 random Head Start agencies and followed their progress through the end of their first grade year. The study found that across a broad range of measures, though students did grow in many areas during their time in Head Start those positive effects all but disappeared by the first grade spring.  A follow-up study with the same children was released later in 2012 and found that not only did students no longer have any advantages over their peers, many were falling behind.  For those who started the study as 3 year olds who participated in Head Start a year longer than their 4 year old friends, the study reports:

At the end of 3rd grade, there was suggestive evidence of an unfavorable impact – the parents of the Head Start group children reported a significantly lower child grade promotion than the parents of the non-Head Start group children.

In addition to these disappointing facts, in 2010 the Government Accountability Office unearthed repeated instances of fraud and testified that, “The system is vulnerable to fraud.”

All this isn’t to say that there aren’t profound and widespread educational challenges especially amongst students coming from low-income families. There are a wide variety of legitimate hurdles facing children who come from extremely difficult family backgrounds and areas where access to a good education is lacking. Still, there is no justification for perpetuating programs that simply don’t work and add billions of dollars to our growing deficit.  Even worse, leftist think tank and Obama favorite the Center for American Progress wants to boost Head Start funding from roughly $7,000 per student to a whopping $10,000 per student!

Education Myth #2: More Help From Big Gov’t Will Bring Down Higher Ed Costs

But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.  Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck. – President Obama, SOTU 2013

Over the past ten-plus years, the average cost of a year of undergraduate tuition, room, and board at a public university rose 42 percent and the same costs at a private college or university rose 31 percent.  Around the same time, federal aid tripled from $10 billion in FY 2000 to $30 billion in FY 2008! Taxpayer-funded subsidies that keep student loan rates artificially low have had the extremely negative impact of both inflating the cost of college degrees and opening the floodgates to a host of students with a higher  risk of default or who are ill-prepared for the academic rigors of higher education. These students would have avoided taking on the enormous debt increasingly associated with a college degree where it not for the abundance of cheap credit at taxpayer expense.

Also, increased meddling by Big Brother in the affairs of the Ivory Tower is not a recipe for success. Some schools like Hillsdale and Grove City colleges have bowed out of the gravy train in order to evade the many strings that come attached to government funds. In doing so they have had the freedom to develop their own rigorous brand of education whilst simultaneously keeping costs low and attracting an extremely high caliber of student.

For an example of how misguided attempts to incentivize institutions of higher education to bend to Washington’s will with the promise of taxpayer funds look no further than the Title IX boondoggle that has seen colleges and universities cut one sport after another in an effort to comply with the onerous and often indecipherable demands of Title IX compliance. In a June 2010 study here, Title IX expert Allison Kasic explains that, “While well intentioned, Title IX in the realm of athletics has unfortunately been a case study of perverse incentives and unintended consequences.”

Given the damaging track record of past big government education schemes, there’s little reason to expect better results from the President’s new initiatives.

In his GOP response (full speech text here), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) didn’t provide the bold contrast many conservatives were hoping for when comes to education. Instead of focusing on free-market education reforms, his calls for incentivizing “local school districts to offer more advanced placement course and more vocation and career training” sounded like more of the same federal intrusion taxpayers have decried under “No Child Left Behind.” Rubio’s vocal support for federal financial aid both perpetuates a broken system and offers no real solution for change. Instead, his calls for expanding federal financial aid to more students could result in the same increase in costs for nontraditional and for-profit schools that we’ve seen in other branches of higher education.

With National School Choice Week only a few short weeks ago, it was disappointing that Sen. Rubio dedicated barely one sentence of his rebuttal to this important free-market education reform.  On the other hand, Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) Tea Party response (full text here) was a refreshingly bold endorsement of school choice:

For those striving to climb the ladder of success we must fix our schools. America’s educational system is leaving behind anyone who starts with disadvantages. We have cut classroom size in half and tripled spending on education and still we lag behind much of the world. A great education needs to be available for everyone, whether you live on country club lane or in government housing. This will only happen when we allow school choice for everyone, rich or poor, white, brown, or black. Let the taxes you pay for education follow each and every student to the school of your choice. Competition has made America the richest nation in history. Competition can make our educational system the envy of the world. The status quo traps poor children in a crumbling system of hopelessness. When every child can, like the President’s kids, go to the school of their choice, then will the dreams of our children come true!

As these three elected officials move ahead with their education plans NTU will be watching closely to ensure taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for the same failed policies and will be pushing for less, not more government, in education  - not just because that’s better for the bottom line, but because it has been demonstrated that school choice works for kids.

 

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Speaking of Taxpayers, July 20, 2012: NTU’s New State Affairs Manager, Post Office, & More
Posted By:  - 07/23/12

Subscribe to NTU's podcast "Speaking of Taxpayers" via iTunes!

      
   
   
   
   
   

NTU's new State Affairs Manager Lee Schalk joins Doug & Manzanita (in Pete's absence) to discuss state taxpayer issues that are still popping up despite the summer heat. Also the 'Fiscal Five' & 'Outrage of the Week!'
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In Alabama, Even a 6.8% Spike in Education Funding not Enough
Posted By: Lee Schalk - 07/10/12

Last week, startling news for taxpayers emerged from the Heart of Dixie. From October to June, tax collections for Alabama’s Education Trust Fund totaled $4.25 billion, representing an increase of 6.8 percent. This is an increase of $269.9 million from the same period a year earlier. This extra revenue should be more than enough to support Alabama’s public schools and colleges, right?

Not so fast! Turns out state lawmakers budgeted for $5.67 billion to be spent from the trust fund’s coffers by the end of the fiscal year, representing an additional 6.3% on top of the steadily growing tax collections. This is the same trust fund from which tax credits for production companies filming in Alabama will be drawn after a Senate panel approved an increase this March. Apparently state legislators are still bitter that Forrest Gump and Sweet Home Alabama weren’t filmed on location and they want to ensure that such a travesty never happens again.

That tax credit isn’t the only one drawn against revenue in the “Education” Trust Fund. During the 2011 legislative session, the Alabama Senate approved credits for industrial projects as well. These tax credits were expected to total $80 million per year.

Alabama’s economy, like most states across the country, is struggling and taxpayers are suffering under the weight of a government that grew by a staggering 30 percent from 2000-2010. Instead of implementing wide-ranging tax reform that lowers burdens on all businesses and individuals and using the Education Trust Fund for, you know, education services, the state has chosen to draw it down in part for the creation of a slew of tax credits that try to pick winners and losers.

Taxpayers should rightly be angry with their representatives. When revenue jumps 6.8 percent and it’s still not enough to fund the spending budgeted by the legislature, you have a spending problem.

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You’ve Been Co-signing Student Loans, and A New Bill is Due
Posted By:  - 06/13/12

In a continuation of the trend of strapping government-funded endeavors to the backs of taxpayers: tax dollars will persist as the patchwork solution to the financial woes of debt-laden undergrads.

In order to sustain the 3.4 percent federal student loan interest rate established in 2007 (avoiding a hike to 6.8 percent), taxpayers will fork over $6 billion dollars, effective July 1, 2012. Although $6 billion might sound like a total that would radically alter the situation, this temporary-in-nature effort will only save loan-seeking students, on average, $7 per month. Yet another government intervention that promises lost of costs for taxpayers and minimal (if any) benefit for a specific group. That is, if the continued march of rising tuition prices does not swallow the small relief whole.

Ironically, it is the massive subsidizing of higher education by government that keeps forcing more students to grasp for student loans - and now the whole unsustainable mess threatens to hammer taxpayers (almost like TARP for academia).

The Heritage Foundation offers some suggestions to the crisis from a fiscally-conservative perspective: increased utilization of private scholarships, online education programs, private lenders, and consideration of the risk-factor/graduation potential of college students receiving federal loans (currently no academic ability or outlook is taken into account). All that, plus limiting the government’s inflationary involvement in student loans.

College aid is minimally effective when coupled with tuition increases. The arena of higher education is one that the free market is fully capable of reforming without resorting to the pockets of taxpayers. 

From June 2010-2011, $104 billion in federal student loans were backed by taxpayers. Adding to the madness, the current proposed $6 billion taxpayer financed relief to an already outrageous amount of funding would only affect a small fraction of students. Students who have previously received federal loans will not experience this rate decrease, and will be limited to borrowers who have taken out Stafford and a select few other loans.

Bearing in mind the narrow benefits of prolonging this rate reduction and broad taxpayer cost, one would hope Congress starts to see the light on student loan reform.

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National School Choice Week is right around the corner!
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 01/17/12

Starting on January 22nd and running through the 28th, School Choice Week is a nationwide effort by a nonpartisan coalition of supporters, from schools to organizations like NTU, to highlight the need for education reform - particularly the right of parents to determine where their child goes to school.

The National Taxpayers Union is one of over 200 partner organizations participating in this year’s National School Choice Week. We encourage everyone to visit schoolchoiceweek.com and particularly the events page. The website features opportunities to demonstrate your support for school choice, and learn more about the movement. There are around 300 events currently scheduled, so there is likely one very near you!

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NEA Praises Ron Paul -- Not April Fool's
Posted By:  - 04/01/11

It has the makings of an April Fool's joke.  The National Education Association's Education Insider newsletter for April 1st praises eight Republicans who voted against the DC school voucher program, including Congressman Ron Paul, aka Dr. "No".

Thanks to the tremendous efforts of NEA cyberlobbyists, we were able to keep the vote close and secure the votes of eight Republicans, who bucked their Party leadership to oppose the voucher bill – Representatives Biggert (IL), Dold (IL), Graves (MO), Griffith (VA), Johnson (IL), LoBiondo (NJ), Paul (TX), and Reichert (WA). [emphasis in original]

Yes, Paul (TX) is this Ron Paul and this one too.

 I scrolled all the way to the bottom of the newsletter expecting an "April Fool's" but there wasn't one.  If Ron Paul can bring the NEA around to his point of view on fiscal policy and government spending, he deserves some kind of award -- no fooling.

 

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