Since taking office in January, Idaho Blue Dog Congressman Walt Minnick has been successful in getting at least three of his amendments adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the two most recent, one happened last week, to much heralding and fanfare. The other was in April, to an eerie silence. One added ten words to a bill; the other replaced just one but that one-word amendment in April might actually affect you, or maybe at least the way you view Congressman Minnick.
Thursday Rep. Minnick's office put out a press-release breathlessly touting the adoption of his amendment to the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, which passed the House on a 253 to 171 vote the same day. The amendment, says the release, will "help veterans receive college degrees."
While Minnick's vote on this bill is commendable, after all he did keep a campaign promise and even departed from his mentor Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) in doing so, how much his amendment (which passed without opposition) will actually do for veterans seems more unclear.
IN GENERAL.—Each eligible entity receiving a grant under this section shall develop quantifiable benchmarks on the following indicators (where applicable), to be approved by the Secretary:
(D) Improving comprehensive employment and educational outcomes for postsecondary education and training programs, including—
(iv) transfer of general education credits, including education credits earned while serving in the Armed Forces, between institutions of higher education, as applicable;
It will require participating institutions to set benchmarks and report annually on progress toward meeting those benchmarks. Although no doubt the idea behind the amendment is worthwhile, the practical benefit veterans will gain from the addition of this ten word phrase to the bill isn't certain.
Worthy of demanding a recorded vote when no one debated in opposition? Worthy of the excited press-release hailing Minnick for helping veterans receive college degrees? Grandstanding or legitimate--make your own judgment about that.
It might be a little easier to let Walt have his moment in the sun if it wasn't for the dramatically different way he handled an amendment he was successful in adding to a bill five month ago.
On April 30, the House adopted Walt's amendment to what was called the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009. The bill amended the Truth in Lending Act to establish fair credit card lending practices and became law on May 22.
According to the Act, a credit card company is required to give a consumer 45 days notice prior to raising the interest rates on a credit card and, except under certain circumstances, the rate increase cannot apply retroactively to the existing balance on the card. As the bill was originally written, the existing balance was considered the balance owing on the card 14 days after the rate-increase notice had been sent out. This meant a consumer had a two week grace period after which all subsequent charges would be subject to the increased rate. Minnick's amendment changed the grace period from 14 days to 7 days, giving consumers only a week before subsequent charges would start incurring the higher interest rate.
Here's how he described it:
Mr. Chair, H.R. 627 requires a creditor to provide a consumer at least 45 days’ notice before increasing the consumer’s credit card rate. However, in this bill the higher interest rate taking effect on day 45 applies only to the extent that the consumer’s balance is more than it was at the end of 14 days after receiving the notice.
However, determining the protected balance as of day 14 may still provide enough time for consumers to incur higher overall debt than may be appropriate for them by inflating the balance that will be protected from the rate increase and, in the process, allow consumers to game the system at the expense of creditors.
This amendment would provide that the amount of the balance protected from the higher interest rate be set at the 7-day mark, instead of at 14 days. This change would still give consumers the full 45 days to shop for an alternative source of credit for a better deal, but it would reduce their ability to inappropriately inflate their balances to avoid the application of the higher rate in the event that they do not transfer their balances to another card by that time
Yes, in the bill passed under the auspices of protecting consumers from unfair lending practices, Congressman Minnick felt it necessary to protect the creditors from consumers "gaming the system." (I suppose the takeaway here could be, don't wait more than a week before opening mail from credit card companies.)
The Minnick amendment passed by voice vote. No recorded vote was requested. No press-release breathlessly touting the successful passage of the congressman's amendment. No YouTube video highlighting the debate. Just a subtle—nearly hidden, even—message to consumers.
"I've been a businessman for thirty years," Minnick is fond of repeating. Somehow that doesn't have the ring it once did.