WASHINGTON—Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement today after Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe addressed a joint session of Congress.

“While we appreciate hearing directly from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today, the fact remains that a Trans-Pacific Partnership withoutenforceable protections against currency manipulators will leave working families behind. In 2013, currency manipulation by Japan, which held down the price of the Yen in relation to the dollar, displaced nearly 900,000 American jobs. But President Obama says draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership doesn’t include enforceable currency manipulation chapters.

"If the Administration wants the U.S. to lead good trade deals, we must include rules to stop Japan and other countries from inflating the value of the dollar. Congress should not be asked to fast track a Pacific trade deal without a chapter on currency manipulation.”

In March, the CPC called for enforceable currency manipulation protections in its Principles for Trade, a model to put working Americans first in trade negotiations.

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WASHINGTON— Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), CPC Peace and Security Task Force Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and CPC Equal Protection Task Force Chair Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) released the following statement today after Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) introduced a renewal of the PATRIOT Act with no reforms and no amendments.  

“We oppose Senator McConnell's proposed reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. Americans have been clear that mass collection of private data and invasions of privacy by intelligence agencies must be addressed. We would be abdicating our oath to uphold the constitution if we reauthorized the PATRIOT Act without meaningful reform. Ensuring our safety shouldn’t come at the cost of our civil liberties. ”

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WASHINGTON– Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) introduced resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives supporting efforts to ensure that students have access to debt-free higher education.  Over the last 30 years, the cost of college has increased by 300 percent, forcing some students to take on overwhelming student loan debt or putting a college degree entirely out of reach for others. Student loan debt is now the highest form of personal debt in the nation, reaching over $1.3 trillion for 38 million student loan borrowers across the country.

“A higher education is the best way for people to move up the economic ladder, but the rising cost of college in Hawai‘i and across the country has made it harder for students to earn a degree and get ahead,” said Senator Schatz.  “Our message is clear: we need to do more to make college more affordable for all students so that they can graduate without debt holding them back.  The federal government, states, and schools all have a role to play in cutting the cost of college.  This is a problem we can solve, and we can start by working to make sure institutions receiving federal funding are doing their part to make a degree more affordable and accessible for all students.”

“Going to college is absolutely essential to getting into the middle class and getting ahead once you're there, but far too often it ends up breaking students' banks,” said Senator Schumer.  “When students graduate with loads of debt, the ripple effects are endless; they're less likely to start a business, to buy a house, and to realize their full potential.  When it comes to making college affordable, I'm hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea."

“A student at a public university today faces tuition prices that are more than 300 percent of what his or her parents faced just 30 years ago, and total outstanding student loan debt now stands at a staggering $1.3 trillion,” said Senator Warren.  “Our country should be investing in higher education and working with colleges and universities to bring down tuition costs so that students don't have to take on crushing debt to get an education.”

“Education remains the single greatest avenue of upward mobility our society has ever known,” said Representative Grijalva.  “But the mounting costs of higher education place it out of reach for too many Americans, holding them back from their full potential or burdening them with unimaginable debt for years to come. In the richest nation on earth, there is no excuse for erecting and maintaining these barriers to professional growth.”

“Americans—young and old—know continuing their education is the best path to a financially secure future. But students who go to college face mountains of debt, and too many face difficult choices about their careers and their families because of it,” said Representative Ellison.  “The Debt Free College Resolution is critical because students shouldn’t be punished for investing in their own future—they should walk across the stage on graduation day and take their diploma into a brighter future.”

“Too many young people I’ve talked to are saddled with insurmountable debt just as they’re beginning their adult lives,” said Representative Clark.  “Congress can and should ensure that students who are working hard to begin their careers, start a family, and contribute to our economy are able to graduate from public colleges debt-free so they can focus on pursuing their dreams rather than being held back by a lifetime of debt."

“We all know a college education is important towards achieving long-term success.  However, an entire generation is being weighed down by more than $1 trillion in student loan debt,” said Representative Pocan.  “It’s time to end the reliance on debt as a way to finance a college education for many low- and middle-income students. I’m proud to stand with my progressive colleagues to fight for the goal of providing debt-free college at public institutions across the country. Debt free college is a big, bold way to ensure every student has a chance at success.”

“Crushing student loan debt is making it harder for graduates to save to buy a house, start their own business, or put money aside for a secure retirement,” said Representative Israel.  “A college education is the most important investment that young people can make and should be viewed as a tool of opportunity rather than a financial burden. That is why I am proud to add my name to this initiative calling for a goal of debt-free college that will hopefully generate more conversation about how to alleviate that financial strain and empower graduates to achieve the American dream.”

“A highly educated workforce is key to the success of our nation. However, higher education has become increasingly inaccessible as costs have skyrocketed,” said Representative Rangel.  “We must ensure that everyone can afford to attend college and become more competitive.  Students should be spending more time focused on thriving at school and less time worrying about how they'll pay for it. I look forward to working with my colleagues to reduce the burden of student loan debt and to help expand opportunities for our future generations.”

“We tell students that education opens the doors of opportunity. But when these students pursue higher education, even at public institutions, they too often graduate saddled with debt that takes decades to payback, keeps them from investing in their families, and suffocates our nation’s economic growth,” said Representative Watson Coleman.  “Like a high school diploma in the past, a college degree has become a virtual prerequisite for a middle class job. We need to make affordable higher education a right for all, not just a privilege for the fortunate.  Congress has the ability to make debt-free higher education a reality, supporting our students and continued American competitiveness.”

“A college education provides opportunities and breaks down inequalities,” said Representative McGovern.  “As a nation, we should encourage and incentivize those who wish to pursue a higher education - not penalize them by saddling them with debt for years to come.”

The resolutions were introduced by the following: U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Peter Welch (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.).

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Washington, D.C. – Members of the Progressive Caucus sent a letter inviting U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to discuss their concerns with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

The letter was signed by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), David Cicilline (D-RI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), John Conyers (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Alma Adams (D-NC), Brenda L. Lawrence (D-MI), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Maxine Waters (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is available below and a signed copy can be seen here.

The Honorable Michael Froman
Office of the United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20508                                        

Dear Ambassador Froman:

We are writing to invite you to speak at an upcoming Congressional Progressive Caucus member meeting about the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Members of the Progressive Caucus are eager to talk with you about concerns they have regarding the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus includes 70 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and is one of the largest and most active caucuses within Congress. The caucus meets on a weekly basis when the House of Representatives is in session, and we can accommodate a meeting time that works for your schedule.

Our members are interested in discussing your statements about the United States' trade surplus with its 20 Free Trade Agreement partners. Your comments on the matter, including some made at a March 2015 briefing with Members of Congress, contradict trade data from the U.S. International Trade Commission (U.S.I.T.C.). The data show the United States had a $177.5 billion goods trade deficit with its Free Trade Agreement partners in 2014. We appreciate your April 1, 2015 response to our March 19, 2015 letter about calculating trade balances. Members of our caucus would like the opportunity to discuss the matter with you directly.

As the U.S. Trade Representative, no one is more qualified to explain the administration's positions on vital trade issues. We request the opportunity to discuss the data discrepancy, transparency surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and other issues pertaining to free trade agreements at your earliest convenience. We look forward to sitting down with you soon.  

Sincerely,


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Washington –Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), along with Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA), sent a letter to Secretary Arne Duncan urging the Department of Education to forgive loans incurred by students attending Corinthian Colleges, Inc. Corinthian Colleges is one of the country’s largest for-profit education institutions and is currently under investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for its predatory loan program.

The full text of the letter is available below and a signed copy can be seen here.  

The Honorable Arne Duncan
Secretary
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

We write to ask that you provide debt forgiveness for the loans incurred from the predatory and deceptive practices by Corinthian Colleges Incorporated, which have left tens of thousands of current and former students with a huge amount of debt and little academic or vocational training to show for it. You have received petitions from current and former Corinthian students last month asserting a defense against repayment. While I commend you on the steps the Department has taken to hold these actors accountable, we ask that you exercise the full extent of your authority under the Higher Education Act to provide relief to the students who were harmed by Corinthian Colleges.

Complaints filed by the California State Attorney General’s Office[1]and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau[2]outline a clear pattern of abuse – all across the country potential students were lured into expensive education programs with false promises of job placement upon graduation. Executive level management at the schools stated in emails that their recordkeeping and auditing to determine job placement rates were inadequate. The same correspondence reveals that job placement rates for graduates were worse than the numbers the schools were reporting in marketing materials, disclosures to investors, and to the Department of Education.

These practices were so pervasive and egregious that they eventually agreed with the Department of Education, on July 3, 2014, that Corinthian would have limited access to Title IV funds and would sell off or close its U.S. schools. These schools should be shut down entirely so that current and former students may be refunded their tuition costs. While the Department of Education has chosen a different path forward, hundreds of students harmed by these schools continue to pursue relief from their predatory and debilitating debts.

The Department of Education’s own promissory notes signed by all borrowers states[3]:

In some cases, you may assert, as a defense against collection of your loan, that the school did something wrong or failed to do something it should have done. You can make such a defense against repayment only if the school’s act or omission directly relates to your loan or to the educational services that the loan was intended to pay for, and if what the school did or did not do would give rise to a legal cause of action against the school under applicable state law.

As the California Attorney General and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints identify, these schools routinely violated state and federal consumer protection laws to mislead these students into taking on unsustainable debt to pay for educational services that were inadequate for obtaining employment. It has been widely reported that forgiveness of loans would cost taxpayers[4], but the Department’s own regulations at 34 CFR 685.206 clearly state:

The Secretary may initiate an appropriate proceeding to require the school whose act or omission resulted in the borrower’s successful defense against repayment of a Direct Loan to pay to the Secretary the amount of the loan to which the defense applies.

We ask that the Department honor these students’ defenses against repayment and collection on these fraudulent and predatory loans, and place the financial burden for these actions where it belongs – with the schools. We also request that the Department make it easier for students to submit such requests and provide clear guidance to Congress and to the public as to how the Department will evaluate similar requests in the future. The Department should also prevent dual-tracking by suspending wage garnishments and negative credit reporting while requests are being evaluated, and providing student loan servicers with clear instructions for handling defense against repayment petitions by students.

We are encouraged to see the Department is taking this matter seriously, as it recently fined Corinthian $30 million and imposed other penalties on its remaining campuses based on findings of fraud and misconduct.

We worry for the future of these hardworking men and women who were responsibly pursuing an education only to be lured into inescapable debt, but we also fear that the Department’s inaction on this matter could undermine the faith of future students in our education system.

We look forward to your prompt and thoughtful response to these students’ prayers for relief.

Sincerely,


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[1]Filed Complaint:  CA v Heald;Corinthian;Sequoia;Career Choices;Titan;Rhodes;Florida Metropolitan; Everest, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press_releases/Complaint%2C%20filed%20stamped_0.pdf

 

[2]Filed Complaint: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v Corinthian Colleges Inc., http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201409_cfpb_complaint_corinthian.pdf

 

[3]Contents of Borrower Rights and Responsibilities Statement: http://loanconsolidation.ed.gov/borrower/brights.html

 

[4]A Revolt is Growing as More People Refuse to Pay Back Student Loans, The Washington Post : http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2015/03/30/a-revolt-is-growing-as-more-people-refuse-to-pay-back-student-loans/

 

WASHINGTON – Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement today after Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Paul Ryan introduced a “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill that would expedite approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by revoking Congress’ authority to amend the deal.

“The Trade Promotion Authority introduced today circumvents Congressional authority and prevents oversight that is vital to protecting working families from bad trade deals. Both Republicans and Democrats know the TPP is a threat to our constituents, our economy, and the checks and balances that make our democracy work, which is why TPA faces such steep bipartisan opposition in Congress.

"Trade deals should be balanced, improve environmental protections and put workers first. The TPP will likely send more American jobs overseas, threaten our food and water safety, and increase the price of prescription medicines. Congress should not provide blanket authority to approve a deal that puts corporate profits over working families.”

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WASHINGTON – Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), along with CPC Members Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Mike Honda (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Janice Hahn (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) stand with low-wage workers across the country who will go on strike tomorrow to stand up for higher wages and the right to collectively bargain.

“The Fight for $15 isn’t about a number – it’s about the dignity of a livable wage and the rights of workers to stand together against unfair employment practices,” said Rep. Grijalva. “As workers from across the country continue to rise against unfair – and immoral – treatment, we must recognize that every American forced to accept less than their worth for labor is an American who cannot contribute fully to our economy. We must restore this nation’s role as a land of unbridled opportunity, and that starts by ensuring everyone willing to work full time earns enough to get by.”

“Too many working Americans leave work every night wondering how they’ll make it through the end of the month,” Rep. Ellison said. “But a movement made up of workers from every community in America is growing and today’s nationwide action shows the power of people standing up together. Their demand—$15 and the right to organize—isn’t too much to ask from corporations booking huge profits. I’m proud to stand with the thousands of workers hitting the streets tomorrow and I join them in their demand for dignity on the job.”

“Too many hardworking low-wage workers don’t make enough to keep their families out of poverty,” Rep. Pocan said. “That’s why I’m proud to stand with them in the fight for a living wage and the right to organize. Growing their paychecks will help grow our economy and help working families make ends meet.  No one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” 

“Everyone deserves the dignity of a living wage. Simply put, the minimum wage keeps families in poverty. I stand with low-wage workers, in the East Bay and across the country, who are raising their voices for economic justice,” Rep. Lee said. “The Fight for $15 movement is built upon the principle of basic fairness. It’s unconscionable that our country continues to subsidize billion-dollar corporations that pay their workers poverty wages. We need economic fairness and greater opportunity so families can lift themselves out of poverty.”

“The single biggest economic issue facing America today is that jobs do not pay enough to live on,” Rep. DeLauro said. “Our middle class is shrinking and our economy is suffering because of it. Working families are struggling to pay their rent, put food on the table and get out of debt. We need to treat workers with the respect they deserve by raising their wages. Doing so is not just the right thing to do, but it is good for businesses and taxpayers. It results in lower turnover and higher productivity, and saves taxpayers money because fewer workers have to rely on government assistance. It is long past time to ensure that workers have decent wages and the right to collectively bargain. We must get this done.”

“When a growing number of workers are paid so little, it slows down the economy for everybody,” Rep. Jackson Lee said. “When workers cannot afford basics -- like groceries, rent, or transportation -- that reduces their purchasing power in their neighborhoods. Higher pay will put more purchasing power into the hands of workers, so they can put more money back into their community, boost the economy, and create more good jobs.”

“All workers deserve a living wage.  I stand with all American workers in their efforts to obtain reasonable pay and the right of workers to organize," Rep. Honda said.  “No one who works full time should be living in poverty.”

“Today, stagnant wages mean that jobs are frequently a tether to poverty instead of a path out of it. And without the right to unionize and negotiate for better pay, an increasing number of full time workers are forced to rely on public assistance,” Rep. Chu said. “As workers all around the nation come together today, we can make positive changes for the millions of hard working employees in industries such as food service and retail. Our workers deserve a wage that helps them stand on their own two feet to support their families; to put food on the table and kids through college. I am proud to join them in their fight for the fifteen!”

“I support local and national efforts by working families and their allies to increase wages and gain bargaining rights," Rep. Hahn said. “Many food workers are women and men raising families, and despite working hard and putting in full-time hours they live in poverty.  When highly profitable companies don’t pay their employees enough to survive without public assistance – yet reward their stockholders and CEOs – taxpayers foot the bill. We should publicize the examples of successful business leaders who value and invest in their workers, pay good wages, provide good benefits.  These innovative entrepreneurs are proving that businesses can profit not despite treating workers well but in fact because they treat their workers well.”

“Millions of Americans have watched corporate profits skyrocket and prices for even basic essentials like food jump while their wages have stagnated,” Rep. Watson Coleman said. “Low-wage workers face the worst of this, often trying to scrape together 40-hour weeks, but still making so little money that they need SNAP benefits and other government assistance to make ends meet. It is unacceptable, immoral, and almost criminal that in the wealthiest nation on earth, anyone willing to work full time would be forced to live in poverty. I stand with workers demanding fair and livable wages and the right to organize, and I urge my colleagues in Congress to start listening.”

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WASHINGTON – Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement after the NY Times reported on the Investment Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that was leaked earlier this week. The chapter includes a highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, which would allow companies to sue foreign nations whose new policies hurt those companies’ interests.

“The text of the Investment Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership validates concerns repeatedly raised by the Progressive Caucus about one of the biggest trade deals in history. Expanding ISDS increases foreign corporations’ ability to challenge U.S. policies outside of the U.S. court system, and demand monetary compensation for the loss of their ‘expected future profits.’ This erodes the power of Congress to establish vital health and environmental protections that protect consumers.

“The United States is leading a global race to the bottom that isn’t good for families anywhere. Good trade deals should not expose our consumer protections to legal attacks by foreign corporations.”

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WASHINGTON— Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement today after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that it would move forward with a rule to protect Americans from predatory ‘payday’ lending practices.

“We are pleased the CFPB is acting swiftly on a rule to protect working Americans from unfair payday lending practices. Fraudulent payday loans threaten the economic well-being of many Americans, especially those from low-income communities of color, by trapping them in a cycle of debt. The Congressional Progressive Caucus led a letter along with the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to the CFPB recommending it take bold action to improve the small dollar loan market.

“We applaud the CFPB and President Obama for acting on our concerns and moving forward to protect Americans. We urge them to issue a rule that leaves no room for unscrupulous lenders to continue their harmful conduct.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C.— Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), along with CPC Peace and Security Task Force Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), issued the following statement after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addressed a joint session of Congress. 

“Afghanistan needs the strong leadership of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah—not a prolonged U.S. military presence. A political solution is the only way forward in Afghanistan. We fully support U.S. efforts to facilitate inclusive and democratic institutions in Afghanistan that are free from corruption and meet the needs and goals of its people. But after nearly fourteen years, the deaths of 2,201 service members, and a total price tag of five trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we do not support extending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

“President Obama should reconsider his commitment to allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan through 2016. Before an agreement keeping 9,800 Americans away from their families goes into effect, the Progressive Caucus believes the American people, through their representatives in Congress, should have a say in a continued troop presence in Afghanistan.

“Lasting troop presence in Afghanistan causes resentment of the United States in the region and drains resources that could be better spent meeting critical needs at home. It is time to bring our troops home and forge the political solutions needed for lasting peace in Afghanistan.”

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