Congressman Miller Brings Passion for Education, Health Care, Labor Rights to SMC

He touts Obamacare, student loan reforms and new minimum wage bill

Miller with Prof. Monica Fitzgerald's "Culture and Civic Responsibility" class.Where do you picture yourself at 68 years old? Maybe sitting on a front porch reading a book, going to your grandson’s soccer game, or baking a home-cooked meal with your family? Or are you perhaps working as a congressman, the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, or a member of the Democratic Policy Committee?

For nearly 40 years, Representative George Miller has forged his way through Congress as a political pioneer. In a discussion with Saint Mary’s students last week, Miller said he pursued politics because he wanted to see if he could “change the world,” and that same vigor for politics and progress has not faltered since he was elected to Congress in 1974.

He has been involved in a host of legislative initiatives, particularly in the fields of education, labor and health care reform. Some of his most notable work includes chairing the House Education and Labor Committee, helping create the controversial No Child Left Behind program and helping to construct the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare), as well as contributing to many bills aimed at managing student loans and increasing Pell grants.

Miller says his co-authorship of the Affordable Care Act is one of his proudest accomplishments. And despite the health reform plan’s rocky rollout, he claims that its passage “made my entire 40 years worthwhile.” It’s exactly this kind of work and reform that inspires Miller to continue serving his East Bay district, which now includes Moraga and Saint Mary’s College, with so much zeal.

Miller has also championed legislation to raise the minimum wage and, along with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, he is now pushing a bill  to address the issue that the current minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living, and is in fact lower than it was in 1968, after adjustments for inflation. If passed, the bill would raise the national minimum wage gradually from the current $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

One of Miller’s strongest passions is ensuring that education is affordable. He authored the groundbreaking Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which will allow students who take out education loans after 2014 to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income, making their debt much more manageable. It also raised the limit on Pell Grants for needy students and replaced federally subsidized bank loans with a direct government lending program.

Miller is particularly ardent about this bill because he believes higher education is an imperative and should be accessible, affordable and attainable. But first the government needs to rediscover its responsibility to education in order to rein in egregious tuition costs and overwhelming student debt, he says, adding that “the states have walked away from their obligation.”

At 68,  Miller is living proof that true passion does not diminish with time. “I wanted to be able to move something more than myself,” he says, and in his 40 years of service as a congressman, George Miller has done just that.

By Josephine Kirk ’14