John Boehner: Yet Another Lobbying Slut?

The new House Majority Leader is not quite the 'reformer' he claims

It's been an absolute hell of a week for middle-class students and families needing financial aid for college. On Wednesday, February 1, the House approved, by a 216-214 vote, $12 billion in cuts to student aid. It's been mentioned in this space before, but it bears repeating: These are the largest cuts in the history of the federal student aid program, and students, of all possible groups in society, were asked to bear the highest proportion of the $39 billion "deficit reduction" package. These cuts will mean higher costs in the form of higher interest rates for parents, and new origination fees. Meanwhile, there's a $56 billion deficit "expansion" package currently being debated in the Senate—only they call those tax cuts.

Luke Swarthout, of the Student PIRGs, was among the student advocates struggling in the past few weeks to get more Republicans to oppose this bill. In the end, 13 Republicans crossed the aisle, while Democrats stayed solid. "It's become abundantly clear that Congress still doesn't get it," Swarthout said last night. "They're taking money from middle-class families and students to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy."

Today, the second blow of the one-two punch landed home. Rep. John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, was elected House Majority Leader (to replace the indicted Tom DeLay) in an upset over current whip Roy Blount.

Somehow, Boehner managed to brand himself the reform candidate. That might be news to Sallie Mae, the student-loan behemoth, which in the 2003-2004 election cycle contributed over $100,000 to Boehner through its PACs and individual contributors. That's 40 percent of all contributions made by the entire student loan industry, reported Stephen Burd in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week.

"On several occasions, Mr. Boehner was a guest of Albert L. Lord, who was Sallie Mae's chief executive officer from 1997 to 2005 and is now chairman of its board, on the company's corporate jet, primarily for golf outings in Florida. The company also helped sponsor a party that Mr. Boehner threw in New York at the 2004 Republican National Convention. In addition, Mr. Boehner's daughter, Tricia, works for the General Revenue Corporation, a loan-collection company owned by Sallie Mae."

These are the kind of cozy, K-Street relationships that lobbying reform is all about. Why is this friendship between the new House leader and Sallie Mae bad for students? It's in Sallie Mae's interest to hold onto its billions of dollars in annual government subsidies. This is money, from a limited federal higher education budget, that's not being applied to grants or to making loans more affordable for students.

It's never been a better time to call or write your Congressperson about the importance of a federal student aid financing system that's fair to everyone. Well, maybe last week would have been a better time. But now's good too.

 
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