published Friday, June 13th, 2014

The maddening politics of politics

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., voted against students, and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., voted against veterans.

That's what will be spun, insinuated and said straightforwardly -- maybe even by those who want the senators' jobs -- in the days, weeks and months ahead.

The fact that Alexander voted "for" veterans and Corker voted "for" students in the same votes will be lost in the shuffle.

The spins, the obfuscations, the prevarications are why the average Joe hates politics.

Joe the informed voter, who reads about issues in front of the government from an unlimited access to news organizations, websites and blogs, hates politics because he knows the senators' votes are sometimes procedural, sometimes political and sometimes heartfelt. Joe the low-information voter hates politics because he believes Congress is made of people who hate veterans and students as a result of what he heard the man sitting next to him on the subway say or what what he heard the comedy faux news show report.

The politics of politics is why polls -- the accurate and the contrived -- always reflect low ratings for Congress.

Alexander, like all but three of his Republican colleagues (Corker being one), voted to block legislation aimed at letting people refinance their students loans at lower rates. The actual vote -- which failed -- would only have advanced the measure to debate in the Senate, but several someones will re-manufacture Alexander's vote into being "against students."

The Tennessee senior senator's colleagues said the legislation, which would have been paid for with a minimum tax for people making over $1 million, would not have done anything to lower the soaring cost of higher education (try cutting down on the bureaucracy) or reduce the amount of student borrowing. And, speaking of politics, all involved with the bill understood the bill was an election-year ploy to give desperate Senate Democrats an issue on which to run.

Alexander, who helped put together a bipartisan agreement last year to reduce interest rates on new student loans, said the bill "raises individual income taxes by $72 billion and could add up to $420 billion in new federal debt to offer a $1-a-day subsidy for some old student loans."

While speaking on the Senate floor, he also offered solutions for over-borrowing such as simplifying the student loan program, eliminating a program that provides virtually unlimited loans to graduate students regardless of their credit history, prohibiting part-time students from taking out the same amount of loans full-time students can, and giving colleges and universities the ability to require credit counseling and limit the amount students can take out in federal loans.

But remember the template: Alexander's against students.

Meanwhile, Corker was one of only three votes against a bill that would help veterans, who have encountered long wait times to get initial Veterans Health Administration medical clinic visits, to receive VHA-paid treatment from local doctors. Since the U.S. House already passed a similar bill, the measure will likely sail through a joint committee and head to President Obama for his signature. So why is Corker, the uninformed will say, so against those who fought for the country and -- to the country's shame -- had to wait long amounts of time for medical care?

He's not, of course, and, since he's not up for re-election this year, could afford to explain why he voted the way he did.

"I value too much the sacrifice our veterans have given to our country," Corker said, "to vote for a bill that was thrown together without any discussion by this body and increases the deficit by at least $35 billion."

The Tennessee junior senator said he hoped the House would more thoroughly address the recent wait-time issues and make sure the bill "is paid for in a way that does not burden future generations with crushing debt so I can support it when it gets back to the Senate."

Like Corker, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said the bill provided a "blank check" to spend billions of dollars with little or no way to reel it in.

On both the student loan and veterans bills, the Tennessee senators voted against the grain for sound fiscal reasons, but neither hid behind their votes. How the votes will be spun may be a different matter.

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