CNN political analyst and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) accused Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine of falsely claiming during the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address that Republicans in Congress are cutting funding for student loans and have tried to cut Medicaid funds. In fact, bills already passed by the House and the Senate include $12.7 billion in spending cuts to student loan programs and approximately $7 billion in spending cuts to Medicaid.
During CNN's January 31 special post-State of the Union coverage, CNN political analyst and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) accused Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine of falsely claiming, during the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address, that Republicans in Congress are cutting funding for student loans and have tried to cut Medicaid funds. Discussing Kaine's remarks with Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Paul Begala, Watts said, "They ought to send Governor Kaine to bed with no dinner for saying they're cutting student loans and cutting Medicaid funds. You know, that is not the case." Watts repeated the claim in a later discussion with Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), adding, "Rahm, we need to send you to that bed as well." In fact, bills already passed by the House and the Senate include $12.7 billion in spending cuts to student loan programs and approximately $7 billion in spending cuts to Medicaid.
In the Democratic response, Kaine stated that "the Republican leadership in Washington is actually cutting billions of dollars from the student loan programs that serve working families" and "has made efforts to cut Medicaid funds for our most vulnerable citizens."
On December 21, 2005, in a 51-50 vote, the Senate approved nearly $40 billion in budget cuts, including cuts of $12.7 billion to federal student loans and nearly $7 billion in Medicaid funding as part of the Republican-sponsored Deficit Reduction Act (DRA). Five Republicans and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords (VT) joined all 45 Democrats in voting "no" on the measure, forcing Vice President Dick Cheney to cast the tie-breaking vote. Senate Democrats forced small changes to the bill by using a procedural tactic known as the "Byrd rule" and sent it back to the House for a new vote . The House approved the new bill 216-214.
On January 27, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report studying the effects of the proposed budget cuts and found, as a January 30 New York Times article noted, that the proposed Medicaid budget cuts would mean that "[m]illions of low-income people would have to pay more for health care under a bill worked out by Congress, and some of them would forgo care or drop out of Medicaid because of the higher co-payments and premiums." According to the CBO: "In response to the new premiums, some beneficiaries would not apply for Medicaid, would leave the program or would become ineligible due to nonpayment. CBO estimates that about 45,000 enrollees would lose coverage in fiscal year 2010 and that 65,000 would lose coverage in fiscal year 2015 because of the imposition of premiums. About 60 percent of those losing coverage would be children."
The DRA would also cut funding for student loans by $12.7 billion, mainly by raising interest rates on college loans. According to a December 21, 2005, Boston Globe article, "[t]he bill would cut the amount of loan money guaranteed by the federal government, pushing up interest rates. It would also impose a[n] insurance fee on student loans." The Globe further noted: "Student borrowers would be forced to pay a fixed rate of 6.8 percent on loans, and parents would have an interest rate cap of 8.5 percent, up from 7.9 percent. Further, Pell Grants would remain capped at $4,050 per student per year, despite earlier promises by the Bush administration to raise the cap to $5,100." The National Education Association and several others have called the reductions the "largest cut [in student aid] in history."
From CNN's January 31 special post-State of the Union coverage featuring Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: Paul Begala and J.C. Watts are here with us as well. Paul, what do you think of these numbers?
BEGALA: Well, I think that, if I were working at the White House, I wouldn't be as happy. You know, you need -- he's got to move it higher than that. And you're right. The people who are watching are going to tend to be people who are more favorably disposed to the president. And I think one of the ways he failed is that he's fallen into Washington jargon, which is surprising, because he did have this wonderful -- I'm from Texas -- this wonderful way of talking like a real person, a Texan. He talked about competitiveness. What is that? You know, people sitting at home just want to find a way to pay for their kids' college costs. And I contrast that with Tim Kaine, who said right away, "Look, they're going to be cutting student loans. Kids need that to go to college." He didn't talk about competitiveness. The president talked about isolationism -- whatever that is -- protectionism. These are Washington buzzwords. So I think he was very distant and out of touch with the real lives of real people.
BLITZER: Congressman Watts, J.C. Watts, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, what do you think?
WATTS: Well, Wolf, I think they ought to send Governor Kaine to bed with no dinner for saying they're cutting student loans and cutting Medicaid funds. You know, that is not the case.
EMANUEL: Well, Wolf, first of all, as I just told you, the 9-11 Commission gave this president and Republican Congress a failing grade for what they've done. And as it relates to the security of the American people, we stand ready to work with this president to do that, but we're not going to just try to have an issue. What we want to do is, we want to make progress on that issue and work with the president and sit down. The question I have for them is, are they determined to have an issue or are they determined to work with having the security? And I'll tell you, on that speech tonight, I thought that speech was tired and I thought that speech said, "If you liked the last six, years we're going to give you two more years of that." And the Democrats are saying it's time for new priorities, to put the American people first and change the direction of this country. And the Congress -- and let me say this. Tomorrow morning, the first step, rather than embrace the future, this Congress, under the Republican leadership --
BLITZER: All right --
EMANUEL: -- is going to cut college assistance by $12.7 billion. That's not exactly what I would say would be investing in America's future.
BLITZER: J.C. Watts, what about that? Do the Democrats have a point?
WATTS: No, Wolf, they don't. You remember, I said we should send Governor Kaine to bed with no dinner for saying that we were cutting student loans. Rahm, we need to send you to that bed as well. That's just not the case.