For years under Republican leadership, Congress all but ignored the growing college cost crisis that was preventing many qualified students from going to college. Now, in just the first month of this new Democratic Congress, the House has already voted overwhelmingly to cut interest rates on need-based federal student loans. And this week, Congressman Obey and Senator Byrd have proposed another major step towards putting a college education in reach of every qualified student by boosting the Pell Grant scholarship by $260.

Because of inaction on the part of Congress and the President over the last four years, the Pell Grant scholarship – which goes to low- and moderate-income students – has been frozen at $4,050. Finally, it will be getting a much-needed boost. By taking this step, we will be getting on track towards ensuring that the Pell Grant scholarship covers a greater share of recipients’ overall college expenses. We have more work to do to make college more affordable, but this is a significant step in the right direction.

To pay for this increase in the Pell Grant scholarship, Chairmen Obey and Byrd have eliminated earmarks from the budget altogether. Chairmen Obey and Byrd will be the first to say that earmarks can be beneficial. But because the process for awarding earmarks is fundamentally broken, many earmarks were just plain pork. Until reform of the earmark process is complete, this resolution makes the difficult but appropriate choice. It says that the new Democratic Congress is more interested in helping students afford to go to college than it is in reckless special interest giveaways.