This is not about a funding dispute

And the media needs to stop saying that it is. Republicans in the Senate have just blocked debate from even beginning on a measure to keep interest on federal student loan rates low, despite a majority of Senators voting in favor of proceeding. The Republican line - and surprise of surprises, the media's line - on this is that the Republicans are blocking the bill because they disagree with the way the Democrats are proposing to pay for it. Specifically, that Republicans are opposed to paying for keeping the rates low by increasing payroll taxes on the super rich; they would rather pay for it by eliminating the preventive care fund in health reform - a fund that would increase preventive care, especially for women.

What a pile of horse manure. Nobody who actually considers it important to keep student loan interest rates low would prevent legislative debate from even occurring because they've got a problem with the rich being taxed. No one who cares about helping students would be afraid of a debate on the floor about how to pay for it. There is only one reason for the GOP to let this "funding dispute" overtake the heart of the issue: the Republicans' goal is to end the social compact that is America.

That's what this is about. The President has said for some time now that America needs to make a choice: will we protect and expand our investment into our future in the form of education, infrastructure, and research, or will we protect tax giveaways for the wealthy and the multinationals? Will we protect the social safety net, expand access to quality health care regardless of ability to pay and help those suffering from hardship, or will we protect preferential tax treatment for Mitt Romney's money? America needs to make a choice, because we cannot afford to do both.

That is the choice we see Republicans in Congress making. They have chosen tax breaks for millionaires over helping middle class and working class students have a decent shot.  They have chosen to give away $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies while we could instead be investing that money in clean energy. They have chosen reducing the responsibility of the wealthy to our common good over food for 236 poor children and families. They have chosen the American aristocracy over the American working class. They have chosen to say that drastically cutting back on programs that help the poor, working people, women and students is preferable to asking the the most fortunate to pay their fair share. They have chosen to say that if we cannot strip away all the social investments at once, then we must starve one to make room for another - that we must stop preventive care for women, girls and others in order to keep a low interest on student loans.

These are the choices President Obama has been talking about. Literally. We can cut off health care lifelines or raise a small amount of payroll taxes on income that doesn't pay any payroll tax in the first place (capital gains) for really rich people. We can make students carry a greater debt burden in order to go to college or ask the super rich to pay their fair share. We can continue to give tax breaks to big oil or invest in a clean energy future. We can keep giving tax breaks for companies to shift jobs overseas or we can use that money to make things in America. We can't do both.

This student loan debate is not about a funding dispute. It's about that choice, and it's about the Republican party making its choice. To think that this is merely about how to pay for one program would be a mistake. Republicans are not trying to pay for extending low interest rates on student loans. They are trying to use that need to force a choice between investing in students and investing in quality health care. Republicans could care less if interests on student loans doubled, as they are scheduled to do on July 1 without Congressional action. In fact, their budget counts on the rates doubling. They were perfectly happy to do this until the President made the issue too hot for them. And then we started hearing excuses about how to pay for it.

But their attention did not go far from where it has always been - protecting and caring for the tax giveaways to the wealthy. They concentrated on preventing one rate from going up, and it ain't the rate on student loans. The rate increase Republicans want to prevent is the tax rate on millionaires and billionaires.

This isn't about a funding dispute. This is about a values dispute. On one side, there are values of fulfilling our social responsibility to the elderly, the poor, the sick, the working class. On the other side, there are values of ending that social compact and becoming an austerity society. One side's values strive to protect a fair shot at life for anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules. The other side's values strive to protect the status of the aristocrats and leaving everyone else to fend for their own. One side believes that America is not just a stretch of land but an idea - an idea where freedom is sustained by everyone having a fair shot, everyone paying their fair share and everyone playing by the same rules. The other side believes in a notion of America where the rich are rich because they deserve it, and the poor are poor because they deserve it.

This isn't about a funding dispute. This is about a values dispute. It's time for us to choose which set of values are our values.