Thursday, October 27, 2011

We, The People - A New Way to Petition the Government

Scene at the Signing of the United States Constitution
by Howard Chandler Christy
About a month ago, I received an email from the White House announcing a new website called We the People: Your Voice in Our Government.  I hopped over there, and found the executive branch created a new way for citizens to petition the government in accordance to the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Basically, any citizen can go there and create a petition.  If a petition receives enough signatures to go over a threshold, someone in the White House will review the petition and give a formal response.  The first petitions had a threshold of 5,000 signatures, but new petitions now need at least 25,000 signatures to receive attention.

I did not write about this website before, because I wanted to see a response, an action, anything that showed the system worked and wasn't just some political diversion.  This morning, I received an email with a response to a petition I signed at the beginning of October.  The petition's title was "Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy and Usher in a New Era of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Prosperity".

A small digression - I feel two ways about student loans.  I had student loans, so I know the feeling that of having a large debt hanging over your head at graduation.  It sucks. But I also paid them off years ago.  

I want college graduates to be able to afford housing and food, but I don't really think anyone should wave a magic wand and *poof* the loans away.  I signed the petition, though, because I felt that forgiving the loans and stimulating the economy was the best for society at large.

Back to the story... this morning I received an email with the first response to any petition.  Basically, the White House managed a compromise that lets people repay the loans based on income, with a cap of 10% of discretionary income as the maximum payment amount allowed and a 20 year time limit.  After 20 years, all remaining debt is forgiven.  This new policy begins next year, and I hope will allow college graduates to honor their obligations without going bankrupt.*

I also hope that this response means the other petitions, particularly the one about the TSA, get both attention and action.  After all, our government is supposed to be by the people and for the people.  It's nice to see that the people do still have a voice.

* The government is also allowing people with two different types of loans to consolidate them, but I don't understand enough to translate that part here.  If you follow this link, you can read about it yourself.

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