Senators jeopardize free community college bill


Isaac Coltman

The America’s College Promise Act would insure two free years of in-state community college tuition, covering attendance to Clackamas, Portland or Mt. Hood community college (among others).

Issac Coltman

When President Biden was elected last November, he won on a platform of increased social spending— including paid family leave, childcare and two free years of community college. 

Nearly a year later, those promises have hit Capitol Hill with the “Build Back Better” bill and a price tag totalling 3.5 trillion dollars, but that number is soon to change.

The Build Back Better bill requires a numerical majority in order to pass— and two senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kristen Sinema (D-AZ), are refusing to pass the bill in its current state.

The cost of the bill, in Sen. Joe Manchin’s eyes, is too much.

I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party, must ask the simple question – how much is enough?,” he wrote in an official press release on Sep. 29, 2021.

An official statement from communications director John LaBombard was released on Sinema’s website regarding the budget reconciliation negotiations: “While we do not negotiate through the press – because Senator Sinema respects the integrity of direct negotiations – she continues to engage directly in good-faith discussions with both President Biden and Senator Schumer to find common ground.”

Note that the reconciliation bill’s funding is intended to be used over the next 10 years.

With their political positions, preventing the bill from otherwise being passed, Sinema and Manchin both have received major push-back from protestors and activists. 

As CBS-WTRF reports, multiple West Virginian activists kayaked to Sen. Manchin’s yacht and yelled into his cabin.

 “79% of West Virginians want this bill! And yet, Sen. Manchin is still blocking it. He’s not listening to us,” Loretta Young, an executive director of Race Matters West Virginia, said.

After the incident, Joe Manchin came out and invited the activists to discuss in a private meeting.

In a video posted by the organization Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), activists there followed Senator Sinema into the bathroom after she declined to speak to them.

[Sinema has] denied our requests, ignored our phone calls, and closed her office to her constituents. She hasn’t had a public event or town hall in years,” LUCHA wrote in an email to the Arizona Republic. “Noone wants to meet their senator in the restroom.”

Regardless of public ostracisation, the problem persists. Democrats are split on the issue, requiring compromise.

That’s where the free community college policy comes in, also known as the America’s College Promise Act— which would entitle high school students to two years of community college for next to no cost. The America’s College Promise Act was proposed into congress in April of this year, and was effectively placed into the reconciliation bill. 

The Promise Act would directly benefit students all over the country, including students who attend community colleges like Portland Community College, Mt. Hood Community College and Clackamas Community College.

At community colleges, students can earn two year degrees or can accrue credits that can then transfer over to the University of Oregon or Oregon State University. Attending community college for the first two years of their education can save students thousands of dollars.

However, according to CNN, sources familiar with ongoing negotiations have said that the Promise Act is due to be cut; this goes against what Biden repeatedly promised during campaign speeches and in recent months. 

And with a non-formal deadline of Oct. 31, 2021, negotiations are swiftly coming to a close.

Lincoln students share their thoughts.

“[Democrats] compromise-compromise-compromise, they destroy the Democratic agenda. The free college bill is on the chopping block, and a lot of the policies we’ve been really wanting can’t simply be pushed through the senate. This makes a perilous situation, because the Democrat party has no coping mechanism against this,” sophomore Max Sommer commented on the situation.

Sommer feels like the problems lie with problems inherent to America’s democratic system.

“A lot of these policies never had a chance to begin with, it was doomed from the start. I find it extremely frustrating— because as a leftist— I’m trying to get things passed that are way more radical, and the supposedly left leaning party of the United States can’t get past step one,” he said.

If this is something that you are passionate about, you can call or write to senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) or Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to fight to keep the Promise Act.