Tell The Senate To Act On Student Loan Debt

Isaiah J. Poole

As the Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on legislation that will stop a scheduled doubling of the rate on Stafford student loans on July 1, conservatives are engaged in a shameless (and shameful) effort to detail the effort.

That’s why, this afternoon and Tuesday morning, it’s critical for you to send a message to your senator to tell them you do not stand for students being shackled by more debt. Tell your senator to support the “Stop Student Interest Loan Hike Act.”

The conservative shenanigans on this issue would be comical if it were not for the deadly serious ramifications of saddling students with more than $1 trillion in student debt—more debt than they and the entire rest of the nation have on their credit cards. On Sunday conservative columnist George Will said that the federal student loan program represented “a slow-motion, almost absentminded creation of a new entitlement”—as if bestowing the word “entitlement” on a student loan program made any sense at all and as if the taint of the “e-word” would make the program go away.

Crooks & Liars has a wonderful rejoinder to Will. When Will was challenged on ABC’s “This Week” by commentator Tavis Smiley about giving “interest-free loans to bankers” but not to college students, Will responded, “Let’s not give interest-free loans to anyone.” The writer, karoli, responded:

At last! Something I agree with George Will about. Truly, let’s not give interest-free loans to the banks, and let’s not make students and their struggling middle class parents break under the weight of student loans. Instead, let’s recognize that this country has always believed that educating our children is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy, and start paying for it again the way we have in the past.

… I’m completely serious about the need to return to the values that made this country great, and those values include assuming the costs for educating our young people and making sure they have the finest education possible in order to innovate, create, and shape a new, better, more equal world. Enough of the philosophy of educating only caretakers for the oligarchs.

When conservatives are not making idiotic statements about student loans being “entitlements” as Will did, or implying that students are racking up student debt because they are lazy and irresponsible, they are using the student loan issue as a pawn in a game of political posturing.

It would cost the federal government $6 billion to keep the student loan rate from increasing from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. It would be wise policy to just add $6 billion to the deficit—a relatively insignificant amount given the size of the deficit—with the knowledge that because of the students who were able to use their college educations to get better jobs, the nation would be better off.

Instead, the Republicans are insisting on cutting funding for preventative health care to offset the cost of freezing the interest rate level. Senate Democrats are at least being a tad more sensible; their bill would close a loophole that allows some high earners from avoiding paying payroll taxes on some of their income.

But conservatives reject even this type of compromise. When Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. and the architect of the Republican budget, was asked at a student town hall meeting if he would “support closing corporate tax loopholes to pay for” maintaining student loan rates at their current level, Ryan said, “Nope,” adding that since the student loan bill was “more spending, let’s cut spending that is lower-priority spending to address this higher-priority need.”

In the conservative mind, keeping federal student loan rates at a percentage-point above the rate of general inflation amounts to “more spending” on an “entitlement.” Tell the Senate: Reject that nonsense. This step to make college more affordable is an investment in the future of the country, as important today as it was when post-World War II America committed to the GI Bill. This is a must-do in the struggle to rebuild the middle class.


Forging a strategy for a broad college affordability agenda for the 99 Percent is one of the topics at the Take Back the American Dream conference June 18-20 in Washington. Get more information and register.

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