President Obama signed the health care reconciliation bill into law Tuesday morning, taking the opportunity to focus not on health care reform but on the other major element of the legislation: education reform.
Mr. Obama hailed passage of education reforms that he said are "finally making our student loan system work for students and our families."
Appearing at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia, the president said passage of the legislation represented a victory for students in the "great battle" between students' interests and the interests of banks and financial institutions, which spent millions lobbying against reform.
He said it remedied a "sweetheart deal in federal law that essentially gave billions of dollars to banks to act as unnecessary middlemen" in the student loan process.
Mr. Obama said that the legislation would save $68 billion in the coming years, which will be spent to help students instead of "padding student lenders' profits."
"we can't afford to waste billions of dollars on giveaways to banks," he said.
The significance of the education reforms, he said, were "overlooked amid all the hoopla, all the drama of last week" in passage of the health care bill.
The money saved will be used for the following, according to the president:
- $2 billion in funding for community colleges, "one of the great undervalued assets in our educational system";
- A doubling in funding for Pell Grants, adding $40 billion to the program: More than 800,000 additional Pell awards will be made over the next decade, the president said, with the amount they are worth raised to nearly $6,000;
- Reform in student loan repayment: Starting in 2014, the percentage of their income that students must pay back is being reduced from 15 percent to 10 percent, and students who pay their loans on time will no longer have to pay them back after 20 years. For those who go into teaching, nursing or the Armed Forces, repayment can stop after 10 year;
- Strengthening historically black and other minority colleges and universities, which the president said had been hard-hit by the financial crisis.
"All of this is paid for," the president told an enthusiastic audience. "We're redirecting money that was poorly spent to make sure that we're making investments in our future."
Mr. Obama was introduced by Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president, who also teaches at Northern Virginia Community College. The president announced that Jill Biden would lead a summit on community colleges at the White House in the fall.
He also took the opportunity to tweak his vice president; taking the stage, Mr. Obama quipped, "Thank you Dr. Biden for that outstanding introduction, and for putting up with Joe."
The president twice thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her leadership on the legislation and also lauded other members of Congress who took leadership roles.
"This week we can rightly say the foundation on which America's future will be built is stronger than it was one year ago," he said, referencing both health care and education reform.
The bill signed into law by the president makes changes to the Senate version of the health care legislation passed by the House. It is known formally as the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.