After Historic Venezuelan Elections, Political Prisoners Should Be Immediately Released

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U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, issued the following statement today regarding Venezuela’s historic elections:

“The people of Venezuela have courageously stood up demanding a better future and rejected not just the Maduro regime and all the misery it has brought to Venezuela, but also the axis of repression and tyranny that it represents in the Western Hemisphere.

“Maduro and his followers should accept the will of the Venezuelan people, and accept accountability for mismanaging the economy, destroying the rule of law and violating the fundamental rights of countless Venezuelans. Acknowledging the will of the Venezuelan people by releasing all political prisoners, including Leopoldo Lopez, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, would be a positive start and should happen immediately.

“These election results are even more remarkable considering the Obama Administration’s neglectful, and at times counterproductive, approach to the Western Hemisphere. This outcome in Venezuela comes at a time when the Obama Administration is propping up Maduro’s allies in Havana, and despite the fact that mounting serious human rights abuses and repression have been met largely with indifference from the White House and a failure to fully implement a sanctions law I helped pass last year to crack down on human rights violators.”

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Rubio: A Path For Reforming The VA

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Tampa Bay Times

October 20, 2015

Print Edition

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/rubio-a-path-for-reforming-the-va/2250356

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the second-largest federal agency, with more than 350,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $159 billion. Yet today — more than a year after scores of veterans died while stuck on secret wait lists — mountains of backlogged disability claims, wide-scale construction overruns and a serious lack of accountability continue to plague the agency.

Instead of being given the benefits they have earned, veterans’ disability applications have been shredded, while whistleblowers who expose this corruption face retaliation. Time and time again, too many senior VA officials have proven incapable of serving those who have served our country.

In our own state of Florida, veterans are still waiting 30 days for a primary care appointment at the Jacksonville VA. Meanwhile, the James A. Haley VA has been stricken with serious pest issues, and every day veterans from across the state contact my office for assistance navigating VA’s broken bureaucracy. These conditions are alarming and our veterans deserve better.

This lack of transparency and accountability even extends to VA construction projects like the Denver VA. With a $1.6 billion dollar price tag, more than $1 billion over its initial budget of $604 million, the Denver VA hospital is known to be one of the most expensive medical facilities in the world. And at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, officials decided to spend more than $6.3 million on art, including $483,000 for a sculpture of a rock.

The incompetence at the VA is unacceptable. Negligence continues to go unpunished while our nation’s heroes are dying. We must stand together as a nation to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve. It’s why earlier this year, House VA Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and I introduced the VA Accountability Act of 2015, a commonsense reform bill to end the culture of unaccountability by giving the VA secretary additional authorities to remove or demote any VA employee based on performance or misconduct.

With this authority the VA secretary will be out of excuses for not holding accountable those who are responsible for the dysfunction and incompetence plaguing our VA system. It also strengthens whistleblower protections and extends the current probationary period for new employees to a minimum of 18 months.

While I believe that a majority of VA employees act in the best interest of our veterans and are passionate about the work they do, it is our duty to ensure that those who put their own interests before our veterans are fired, not protected.

Keep reading here.

Rubio To Obama: Reconsider Request For Federal Flooding Assistance To Tampa Region

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U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently urged President Barack Obama to reconsider Governor Rick Scott’s request for flooding assistance to help the five Gulf counties heavily impacted by August flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied the Governor’s original request without cause or explanation, despite serious flooding and widespread damage.

“The severe weather events last month caused significant damage to numerous homes, businesses, transportation networks, and public infrastructure,” wrote Rubio. “These hard hit areas are home to populations that are more susceptible to economic hardship.

“As Floridians continue to reel from the effects of last month’s torrential rains and flooding, I respectfully request you consider Governor Scott’s appeal for a Major Disaster Declaration for Individual Assistance for the five impacted counties,” Rubio continued.

A PDF of the letter is available here, and the text is below:

September 15, 2015

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As you may know, from late July to early August, heavy rainfall battered Florida’s central west coast, resulting in amounts of 10 to 20 inches. The counties of Dixie, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Taylor experienced numerous days of heavy rainfall that resulted in severe flooding. As the State of Florida continues to address the effects of this record-breaking rain, I urge you to reconsider Governor Rick Scott’s August 25, 2015 request for a Major Disaster Declaration for Individual Assistance.

The severe weather events last month caused significant damage to numerous homes, businesses, transportation networks, and public infrastructure. These hard hit areas are home to populations that are more susceptible to economic hardship. Taylor, Dixie and Hillsborough are above the national average for persons living below the poverty level. Two of the counties, Taylor and Dixie, have a disabled population approximately two times higher than the national average. Dixie, Pasco and Pinellas Counties consist of a significant elderly population, which equates to one and a half times higher than the national average. And, according to the 2010 census, the five counties affected had an unemployment rate higher than that of the national average.

As noted in Governor Scott’s September 11, 2015 appeal letter, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration, and state and local officials worked together on preliminary damage assessments. It was this joint effort that prompted Governor Scott to request a Major Disaster Declaration on August 25, 2015. On September 3, 2015, FEMA denied the State’s request without cause or explanation. As Floridians continue to reel from the effects of last month’s torrential rains and flooding, I respectfully request you consider Governor Scott’s appeal for a Major Disaster Declaration for Individual Assistance for the five impacted counties.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

Empower Florida’s Children & Families To Escape Poverty (English & Español)

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Ayudando a los niños pobres de la Florida

Por Marco Rubio

El Nuevo Herald

15 de septiembre del 2015

http://www.elnuevoherald.com/opinion-es/article35203380.html

Los niños de la Florida han comenzado el año escolar. Tristemente para muchos de ellos, el sonido de la primera campana de la escuela no puede sonar suficientemente rápido. Aproximadamente un millón de niños –uno de cada cuatro– están viviendo en la pobreza en nuestro estado. El comienzo del año escolar para ellos y sus familias no solo significa poder aprender a diario; también consiste en una rutina cotidiana en la que reciben alimentos y un alivio sin los cuales sus vidas serían impredecibles.

 

Cada historia tiene casos únicos: por ejemplo, algunos de estos niños provienen de familias atrapadas en un círculo vicioso de pobreza, mientras que otros estaban bien hasta que sus familias cayeron en tiempos difíciles. Algunos están en nuestras ciudades, otros residen en las zonas rurales y remotas casi olvidadas de la Florida, mientras que la mayoría vive en nuestros barrios.

 

En cada una de esas historias, veo la imagen de mi familia cuando llegó a este país en 1956. Durante muchos años, los alimentos típicos de mis padres consistían en arroz blanco con un huevo frito encima o macarrones con spam. A pesar del clima caliente de la Florida, no tenían aire acondicionado. Lavaban la ropa a mano y la colgaban afuera para secarla. Si necesitaban más dinero a fin de mes, trabajaban horas extras. Carecían de seguro de salud. Una vez mi madre se lesionó gravemente la mano, y ella misma se puso una venda y regresó al trabajo. Le quedó una cicatriz permanente.

 

Mis padres no sólo tenían que preocuparse de ellos mismos: también estaban cuidando a su niño pequeño, mi hermano, que nunca vio un dentista hasta que se enlistó en el Ejército. Los primeros años de mis padres en Estados Unidos fueron difíciles, pero porque decidieron que este sería su hogar, vivir en la pobreza para ellos fue solamente una condición temporal. Pero no muy lejos se les abrieron puertas a oportunidades –y también para mi hermano– oportunidades que les permitieron alcanzar una vida de clase media y poder vivir el sueño americano.

 

La historia de mi familia no es única. Ser capaz de superar las circunstancias que nos tocaron vivir cuando nacimos es lo que define la historia de Norteamérica. Me siento seguro que si tomamos las decisiones correctas todos los niños de la Florida –y los millones más que viven en la pobreza en el país– podrán alcanzar su potencial pleno. Vivimos en una nación excepcional a pesar de que haya tantas personas viviendo en la pobreza, pero tenemos un deber moral de ayudar a todos y hacer de Estados Unidos un país aún superior.

 

Debemos comenzar con ponerle fin a las políticas que se basan en que “una sola talla sirve para todos”, porque las políticas fracasadas de Washington no han sabido erradicar la pobreza en los últimos cinco decenios. En lugar de ello, cada estado en la nación debe empezar a recibir un Fondo Flex neutral. Esto significa que la ayuda federal que cada estado recibe a través de los diversos programas administrados por el gobierno federal sería diseñada para financiar programas locales que tengan como objetivo la erradicación de la pobreza. También debemos reformar el Crédito por Ingreso del Trabajo con una mejora salarial que complemente los ingresos mensuales de los trabajadores e incentive al trabajador en vez de promover una dependencia en la ayuda pública.

 

 

Siga leyendo la columna aquí.

 

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RUBIO: EMPOWER FLORIDA’S CHILDREN & FAMILIES TO ESCAPE POVERTY

Empower families to escape poverty

By Marco Rubio

Miami Herald

September 9, 2015

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article34606359.html

Children across Florida have been returning to school. Sadly for many, the first school bell of the year could not ring soon enough. Across our state, approximately 1 million children — one out of every four — are living in poverty. For them and their families, the start of the school year is not just about education; it provides a sense of comfort, routine and even consistent meals in otherwise unpredictable lives.

Each of their stories is unique: Some were born into families trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty; others were fine until their families fell on hard times. Some are in inner cities; others live in the often-forgotten rural parts of Florida, while a growing number are living in our suburbs.

In their lives, I see my family’s earlier struggles to overcome poverty upon arriving in the United States in 1956. For many years, my mom and dad’s typical meals consisted of white rice with a fried egg on top, or macaroni with Spam. Despite Florida’s heat, they didn’t have air conditioning. They washed their clothes by hand and hung it outside to dry. If they needed more money to make ends meet, they worked more. They lacked health insurance, so when my mother seriously injured her hand, she put a bandage on it and went back to work, scarring her hand for life.

My parents didn’t just have themselves to worry about; they were also caring for a young child – my brother, who never saw a dentist until he joined the Army. Their early lives in America were hard, but because they chose to make this their home, their life in poverty was a temporary condition. Soon, doors of opportunity started to open for them — and for my brother — that would allow them to achieve a middle-class life and stake their claim to the American Dream.

My family’s story is not unique. Being able to rise high above the circumstances of one’s birth helps define America. It gives me confidence that, if we make the right policy decisions soon, all of Florida’s children — and the millions more across this country living in poverty — will be empowered to achieve their full potential. We are already an exceptional nation despite having so many people living in poverty, but it is our moral duty to lift everyone and make America even greater.

We must start by ending the one-size-fits-all, Washington-knows-best approach that has failed to eradicate poverty over the past five decades. Instead, states should start receiving a spending-neutral Flex Fund, which is a lump sum amount of federal aid they already receive through the various federally administered programs. States would use these Flex Funds to design and fund anti-poverty programs on a more localized level. We should also reform the Earned Income Tax Credit into a wage enhancement to supplement a worker’s income each month that incentivizes work over welfare.

 

Keep reading here.

As Obama Meets Castro, Rubio Urges Him Not To Cave On Embargo Vote At U.N. Too

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro adjust their jackets at the start of their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro adjust their jackets at the start of their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues, today urged President Barack Obama to vote against an anti-embargo resolution coming up in the United Nations and expressed that the Administration’s position would play a role in his consideration of State Department nominees in the coming months.

“Media reports that your Administration is considering abstaining from voting against the anti-embargo resolution are of even greater concern,” wrote Rubio. “Regardless of your beliefs, the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified in U.S. law and the reasons that it was imposed, including the Cuban government’s theft of billions of dollars of private property, remain unaddressed by Havana. Any disagreements over this law, which only regulates transactions by U.S. persons, should be debated in the United States Congress — not at the United Nations General Assembly.”

“I intend to watch closely the position your Administration takes when this resolution is debated at the United Nations and consider the Administration’s position as key to my advice and consent of involved State Department nominees in the coming months,” Rubio continued.

A PDF of the letter is available here, and the text is below:

September 29, 2015

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, the United Nations General Assembly will vote in the coming weeks on a resolution presented by the Cuban regime calling for an end to the U.S. embargo towards Cuba. While the General Assembly’s vote is symbolic, with no binding jurisdiction over the United States Congress, it fails to take into account the plight of those within the island that seek freedom.  Much has transpired between the governments of Cuba and the United States in the last nine months. Your administration has made many concessions to the Cuban dictatorship, none of which have been reciprocated. To the contrary, Cuba’s rulers, including Raul Castro, whom you are meeting with today, have responded with a dramatic increase in political arrests and other violations of fundamental human rights.

The embargo is critical to denying hard currency to the Cuban regime’s monopolies, which history has proven are only used to further oppression and enrich those close to the ruling class. Article 18 of the country’s Communist Constitution requires that all foreign trade with the island must be funneled through the state. Until this changes, it is illogical to argue that lifting the embargo would somehow benefit the Cuban people. It is the Cuban dictatorship and its backward political and economic policies — not the embargo — that has kept Cuban society from fulfilling its true potential.  Throughout the years, the United States has eased many aspects of the trade embargo, as well as travel restrictions to the island, and each time the Cuban dictatorship has manipulated these unilateral policy changes to its benefit. It is well past time for the Cuban government to change its repressive policies, without any further rewards.

Media reports that your Administration is considering abstaining from voting against the anti-embargo resolution are of even greater concern. Regardless of your beliefs, the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified in U.S. law and the reasons that it was imposed, including the Cuban government’s theft of billions of dollars of private property, remain unaddressed by Havana. Any disagreements over this law, which only regulates transactions by U.S. persons, should be debated in the United States Congress — not at the United Nations General Assembly.

Furthermore, a failure by your Administration to defend U.S. law at the United Nations General Assembly would send a dangerous message to tyrants throughout the world that the President of the United States refuses to pursue policies changes through the U.S. democratic system and instead seeks to challenge his country’s own laws in international fora.

Last, but not least, an abstention by your administration would cripple the efforts of Cuba’s growing dissident movement, which is detained and harassed on a daily basis. It would be interpreted as the United States siding with the Cuban dictatorship over the island’s courageous democracy activists. Your Administration should instead use this opportunity to encourage the Cuban dictatorship to open its society by allowing freedom of expression, freedom of press, and multi-party elections. It should also demand that the Cuban dictatorship remove the real barriers that limit the Cuban people from economically flourishing. Then, and only then, would it merit the lifting of the embargo.

I intend to watch closely the position your Administration takes when this resolution is debated at the United Nations and consider the Administration’s position as key to my advice and consent of involved State Department nominees in the coming months.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

Rubio Saves Taxpayers Over $2.5 Billion In Obamacare Bailout Funds, Calls For Taking Option Off The Table For Good

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 U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement regarding last night’s Obama Administration announcement confirming that his efforts against taxpayer-funded bailouts of health insurance companies under ObamaCare succeeded in saving taxpayers over $2.5 billion this past year:

“American taxpayers have prevailed for now over ObamaCare’s crony capitalist bailout program. Taxpayers should never have to bail out health insurance companies that lose money under ObamaCare, and now we need to take that option off the table for good by passing my legislation to repeal the risk corridor provision in ObamaCare once and for all.

“The risk corridor provision was passed within ObamCare under the broken promises of lower health insurance premiums and Americans being able to keep their health insurance plans. ObamaCare is a massively flawed law with a real impact that has destroyed health insurance in America, and it needs to be repealed and replaced.”

Rubio’s ObamaCare Taxpayer Bailout Prevention Act is endorsed by the following policy advocacy groups: American Conservative Union, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Club for Growth, Freedom Works, Heritage Action, HSA Coalition, National Taxpayers Union, Tea Party Express and the 2017 Project.

BACKGROUND: HOW RUBIO SAVED TAXPAYERS OVER $2.5 BILLION IN OBAMACARE BAILOUT FUNDS FOR HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES

·       Under ObamaCare, health insurance companies that lose money can seek taxpayer funds to cover their losses.

o   Palm Beach Post: “If an insurance company’s medical claims exceed anticipated costs, a federal ‘risk-corridor’ program reimburses a share of those costs. It’s a lesser-known piece of Obamacare intended to cushion risks for insurers between now and 2016 as companies adapt to sweeping healthcare changes.” (“Florida Blue chief: GOP attacks on insurance ‘bailout’ unfair,” Palm Beach Post, 8/14/2014)

 

·       Last night, the Obama Administration announced it will disburse just $362 million to health insurance companies to help cover losses under ObamaCare – well short of the $2.9 billion requested by health insurance companies that incurred a loss by participating in Obamacare

 

o   Politico Pro: “Insurers will be paid $362 million from Obamacare’s risk corridors program for 2014 – or just 12.6 percent of the $2.9 billion in payments they requested. HHS officials, who announced the figures Thursday evening, maintained that insurers will eventually receive the requested payments during the next two years of the temporary program.” (Risk corridor payments far below insurers’ requests,” Politico Pro, 10/1/2015)

 

·       Health insurance companies immediately criticized the shortfall in bailout funding.

 

o   Politico Pro: “Insurers are criticizing today’s announcement by the Obama administration that they’ll receive just $362 million out of $2.9 billion in requested risk corridors payments for 2014… The health law requires that insurers will eventually receive their requested payments. But it’s unclear where the funds will come from to fully pay for it. A budget deal reached last year requires the program to be budget neutral. The risk corridor program was designed to protect insurers entering the Obamacare exchanges.” (“Insurers criticize HHS decision to pay out a fraction of requested risk corridor payments”, Politico Pro, 10/1/2015)

·       The Obama Administration was unable to pay the remaining $2.5 billion because of a provision which U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) fought to include in the December 2014 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress, which forced the risk corridor program to be revenue neutral – in other words, not funded by taxpayers.

 

o   Rubio: “For over a year, I’ve fought to protect Americans from having to fund massive bailouts to protect the profits of the insurance companies that helped write Obamacare. While there is much in this massive spending measure that is simply bad for America, at least the provisions protecting against a taxpayer-funded bailout of insurance companies are a step in the right direction. While the Obama administration can still administer the risk-corridor program, for one year at least, they won’t be able to use taxpayer funds to bail out insurance companies. When Congress returns next year, I will fight to permanently repeal the risk corridor provisions to protect taxpayers after the current legislation expires.” (“Rubio Comments On Obamacare Bailout Provisions,” Press Release, 12/10/2014)

·       In October 2014, Rubio had directly urged House Speaker John Boehner to use the budget process to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies under ObamaCare.

 

o   Rubio: “As you know, the current CR will expire on December 11, 2014… Though Congress will determine the expiration date of the next CR later this year, it is likely the next CR will extend to a date in 2015 when risk corridor payments are reconciled… The President intends to ignore Congress’s explicit and exclusive authority by spending money on the risk corridor program without an appropriation from Congress. The American people expect us, as Members of Congress, to fulfill our Oath of Office and defend the Constitution. Therefore, we must act to protect Congress’ power of the purse and prohibit the Obama administration from dispersing unlawful risk corridor payments providing for an Obamacare taxpayer bailout.” (“Rubio, Colleagues To Boehner: We Must Protect Congressional Authority, Prohibit Obamacare Bailout,” Press Release, 10/8/2014)

·       Rubio was the first to identify the likelihood of a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies under ObamaCare in November 2013, when he introduced legislation to repeal it. (“Rubio Introduces Bill Preventing Taxpayer-Funded Bailouts Of Insurance Companies Under ObamaCare,” Press Release, 11/19/2014)

 

o   He later introduced additional legislation in April 2014 specifying that ObamaCare’s risk corridor program must remain budget neutral, thus preventing taxpayer dollars from being used to bail out health insurance companies. (“Rubio Introduces Legislation To Hold Administration Accountable, Protect Taxpayers From ObamaCare Bailout,” Press Release, 4/1/2014)

 

o   In February 2014, Rubio testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the danger of taxpayers having to bail out health insurance companies under ObamaCare.

 

§  Video & Transcript.

 

o   In the current Congress, Rubio’s first bill introduced would eliminate taxpayer-funded bailouts of ObamaCare for good. (“Rubio Introduces Bill Preventing Taxpayer-Funded Bailouts Of Insurance Companies Under ObamaCare,” Press Release, 1/8/2015)

Rubio’s Accreditation Reform Proposal “An Excellent Start,” Says WSJ Editorial Board

Marco Rubio

Trust Busting Higher Education

Wall Street Journal

October 4, 2015

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trust-busting-higher-education-1443997741

Feigning outrage that college is too expensive is a bipartisan pastime, so it’s refreshing to see [Senator Marco Rubio] taking the cost-drivers seriously. Senator Marco Rubio is highlighting an obscure network of higher-ed busybodies known as accreditation agencies, and more politicians should study up on how to reform this racket.

“Our higher education system is controlled by what amounts to a cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market,” Sen. Rubio said in a speech this summer. Last week he introduced a bill with Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) that would test a voluntary certification process for vocational and nontraditional education.

Six regional accrediting groups deputized by the Education Department determine whether a college is eligible to receive federal aid dollars, and a coterie of outfits bless specific programs like, say, engineering. The regional agencies appeared in the 19th century to distinguish rigorous institutions from diploma mills, but since the 1960s have morphed into wardens of billions in handouts and subsidized student loans.

What do students get? Higher tuition, as colleges plow time and money into the process and pass on the costs. Stanford University said it spent $850,000 in 12 months of a multiyear process, and Duke University reported blowing $1.5 million over two years. Accreditors recommend changes—trimming faculty course loads, hiring more Ph.D.s—that drive up expenses without improving educational outcomes.

Most pernicious is that the cartel stifles innovation. Students can’t use federal aid at colleges that aren’t accredited, yet a school usually must serve students for years before winning approval. Accreditation amounts to monopoly enforcement, which is why in 2013 the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools swatted down an online program at Tiffin University.

Sen. Rubio’s legislation would allow the Education Department to add accreditors for innovations like boot camps where students learn to write code. The outfits (probably industry groups) could only bless programs at or above the 60th percentile in a basket of metrics— such as graduation rates, loan repayment stats, employment figures.

The bill also lays out avenues for nascent offerings, and puts authorizers on the hook for 25% of federal student-loans in default. Students would use Pell grant money for tuition, which means the proposal is geared toward low-income students.

Keep reading here.