By Alexander Bolton - 03/27/10 10:00 AM EDT
President Barack Obama began the tough job of selling healthcare and student lending reform to a skeptical public in his weekly address.
Obama lauded both initiatives, capping a triumphant week in which Democrats passed both measures with zero Republican support.
Obama said healthcare reform would “end the worst practices of the insurance industry, rein in our exploding deficits, and, over time, finally offer millions of families and small businesses quality, affordable care."
Obama focused the rest of his weekly address on legislation to overhaul student-lending laws, the lower-profile legislation that accompanied healthcare reform fixes in a bill that passed the Senate on Thursday.
The controversial lending legislation was passed under special budgetary rules that allow the Senate to approve measures with only 51 votes.
Several Democrats had voiced concerns over the lending proposal because it is estimated to cost more than 30,000 private-sector jobs around the country.
Obama, however, touted the savings college students would see as a result of expanding Pell Grants under the legislation.
“To make college more affordable for millions of middle-class Americans for whom the cost of higher education has become an unbearable burden, we’re expanding federal Pell Grants for students,” Obama said.
The new law will double funding for the grants and index them to keep pace with inflation.
He also emphasized that taxpayers would save an estimated $68 billion over 10 years when the federal government becomes the originator of all student loans, replacing private lending institutions.
“Year after year, we’ve seen billions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to the bankers and middlemen who handle federal student loans, when that money should have gone to advancing the dreams of our students and working families,” the president said.
Obama plans to sign the legislation Tuesday morning at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.
Democrats are still celebrating the biggest legislative success of Obama’s administration.
On Sunday the House passed sweeping healthcare reform, a $871 billion Senate-crafted bill, which Obama signed Tuesday. On Thursday, the Senate passed package of healthcare reform fixes expanding the cost of the initiative to $940 billion over 10 years along with the student-lending overhaul.
The victories buoyed the spirits of Democratic lawmakers who attending a joyous and boisterous signing ceremony at the White House.
They also gave new confidence to the president, who dared Republicans on Thursday to attempt a repeal of healthcare reform.
“They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November,” Obama said. “Well, I say go for it.”
After Democrats passed healthcare reform, lawmakers such as Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) predicted it would boost the prospects of other initiatives, such as comprehensive energy legislation, which would address global warming.
Passage of healthcare reform addressed one of Democrats' biggest fears heading into the election: that they would lack a major accomplishment to show voters.
Many Democrats had grown frustrated that Obama, even with large Democratic majorities in Congress, had not been able to pass any of the broad reforms he listed as his highest priorities at the beginning of last year.
Healthcare reform has given Obama an impressive accomplishment that eluded his predecessors, most famously former President Bill Clinton, who watched Democrats lose control of Congress after his healthcare initiative stalled.
But Democrats acknowledge they now must sell the measure, as well as student-lending reform, to a skeptical public.
A USA TODAY poll from earlier in the week showed that public support for Democratic healthcare reform rose in recent days after Obama traveled the country to stump for it.
Forty-nine percent of people called it a good thing while 40 percent characterized it negatively, according to the survey.
Businesses have already begun complaining the effect about the healthcare and lending reforms.
Telecommunications giant AT&T announced Friday that healthcare reform takes away as much as $1 billion from its bottom line.
Equipment manufacturer John Deere announced the bill would cost it about $150 million after taxes.
And Sallie Mae, a leading student loan provider, has estimated that lending reform could force it to cut 2,500 jobs.
But Obama, who often describes himself as an optimist, focused on the positive.
“Education. Healthcare. Two of the most important pillars of a strong America grew stronger this week,” Obama said.
The president said challenges still face the nation but the achievements of this past week represent “real and major reform” and show that “we’re a nation still capable of doing big things.”