Terrance Heath

Conservatives to Students: Drop Dead!

Filed By Terrance Heath | June 26, 2012 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Pell Grant, student debt, student loan rates, student loans, Washington Post

Never mind “class warfare.” Generational warfare continues apace, this time in the editorial pages of the Washington Post, which echoed the conservative message to young (and older) Americans struggling with student debt: Drop dead.

student-loan-debt.jpgCongress faces two deadlines at week's end, when federal surface transportation funding stops flowing and the interest rate doubles on one class of subsidized student loans. The House and Senate are searching under every federal cushion for cash, hoping to find a way to pay to stave off both deadlines. In fact, Congress should fund the transportation bill and let the politically inspired loan rate lapse.

The student-loan rate is hardly an established standard; only students who took out loans this year got it. It resulted from a Democratic campaign gimmick -- promising to halve student loan rates -- and it's expiring because, after making the promise, Democrats didn't really want to pay for it. "Doubling" the rate would not affect existing student loans, only new ones. There are better ways to encourage college access, such as shoring up the Pell Grant program. The subsidized loan program would still give students a good deal, with terms far more generous than the market could offer borrowers with little or no credit history. Extending today's low loan rate for a year -- yes, lawmakers want to extend it for just a single year -- is not worth the $6 billion it would cost.

That’s been the standard right wing response to young people who are struggling to find work amid grim job prospects, and facing life with massive debt that can burden them for decades, for the rest of their lives, and even beyond the grave. It’s the same message the right has for parents like Francisco Reynoso, who struggles to pay off his dead son’s student loans, simultaneously battling grief and collection agencies. It’s the same message the right has for grandparents whose social security checks are garnished by student loan collection agencies.

Drop dead. You’re on your own. You’ll get nothing, and like it.

Granted, the Post’s line is more sophisticated than some. To its credit, the post did not quite sink to the level of Rep. Joe Walsh (a guy who knows a thing or two about defaulting on a debt) and equate keeping student loan rates from doubling with giving away a “free college education.” (Unfortunately, why anyone would need to take out loans for something that’s “free” will have to remain a mystery. Nor did the Post join Rep. Alan West at the bottom of the barell, and compare Pell Grants to food stamps and student loans to communism.

However, the Post comes off about as sympathetic to the plight of students, graduates, and their families as, say, Rep. Virginia Foxx; and perpetuates the kind of false choice embodied in the Republican proposals to “pay for” keeping student loan rates low by cutting $6 billion in preventative health care from the Affordable Care Act. Yet, closing corporate tax loopholes remains off the table, along with cutting military spending and raising taxes on the wealthy.

Pete Peterson must be pleased that his investment continues to pay off.

(Student loan debt graphic via Flickr)

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