Picking truth in the land of Cotton

Arkansas Fourth District representative, Tom Cotton, has shown he likes to position himself on the very conservative side of the Republican party, but sometimes he even outflanks that crowd. His latest vote — against rolling back the interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford student loans — represents such a positioning — and it brings to light the hypocrisy of his own Ivy League education.

While Cotton, a graduate of Harvard University and the Harvard School of Law, was able to repay his loans in just two years, he’s apparently okay with saddling the lesser among us with years and years of student loan debt.

While we certainly do not begrudge whatever affluence his pedigree and efforts permit, we are disappointed that he is blind to the irony of his position. When he was going to school, he gladly accepted government-sponsored student loans. But now he votes against them. A Stephens Washington Bureau story said a Harvard education along the lines of what Cotton received cost $196,000 in the day.

He says the government should get out of the student loan business entirely, but we shudder to think where student loan rates could end up if caps had not been put into place as provided by this new piece of legislation.

Just to be clear, federally subsidized student loans are no hand-out. They require a promissory note and require the student to repay every cent, plus considerable interest. If students fail to repay subsidized student loans, there are substantial financial and legal consequences — as there should be.

The piece of legislation that passed in the House on Wednesday was approved on a vote of 392-31, which represented an amazing — for the current political environment — show of bipartisan support for a bill that included areas where there have been much disagreement, chief among them the government’s place in providing such lending support.

The two sides of the aisle did not get what they wanted. Twenty-five liberal democrats voted against the measure because they did not like the fact that student loan rates would be tied to Treasury notes and, consequently, could cost students more down the road as the economy picks up steam. But without the bipartisan measure, loan rates would have stayed high, having doubled on July 1 because of the inability of the Republican-controlled House to reach an agreement.

In the end, House members did work to compromise and overcome their differences, which is a rate sighting these days. And, as we point out, the compromise happened without the help of Rep. Cotton, who is said to be on the cusp of announcing his intentions to run for United States Senate against Sen. Mark Pryor.

We respect that politicians have ideological beliefs, but most of us have been around long enough to know that in Washington, if one wants to get anything done, there has to be compromise. If every politician was unwavering, nothing would get accomplished — which is the current status quo. Perhaps Cotton just hasn’t been there long enough to know. He has only been in office since the first of the year.

We should also note that Cotton’s vision for America’s poor extends even unto their dinner table. Cotton (and his Republican colleagues in the Arkansas delegation) have also waged war on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, and also known as food stamps, by removing the program from the farm bill. Many opposed to SNAP tell salacious stories of welfare cheats and other system leaches.

The truth — especially here in Arkansas — is far less sensational. Almost half a million Arkansans (17 percent of the state) get SNAP. Over 75 percent are children. A third are from a family with an elderly or disabled member. Over 41 percent are from working families whose jobs are simply insufficient to pay for minimal nutrition. And according to Kathy Webb, a former state lawmaker and current executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, the program is one of the most efficiently run government programs in existence.

In an interview with NPR-affiliate KUAR in Little Rock, Webb said hat a dollar spent in that program turns into $1.79 in additional spending because poor families take the additional money they have and are able to make other purchases. She also pointed out that money put into SNAP ends up in the pockets of small businesses and grocery stores across the state and that without that revenue, many could be threatened.

Maybe Cotton also wants the government to get out of the business of helping poor people eat.

The current status on the farm bill is a plan to cut $40 billion from the SNAP program — twice the cuts that were proposed in June and failed. So much for compromise.