Jimmy’s Washington Examiner Op-Ed | A new student loans strategy for Republicans

Written by on February 10, 2021

Congressional Democrats are moving apace with their student loan forgiveness schemes.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, along with several liberal members of Congress, introduced a resolution calling for President Biden to cancel unilaterally up to $50,000 in student loan debt for every borrower. It’s unknown if Biden, who favors some forgiveness via Congress, will follow suit on dubious legal authority. Regardless, it seems Democrats will pull out all the stops to get some amount of student loan debt — say, $10,000 per borrower — canceled.

Thankfully, Republicans appear at least to understand the need to push back.

Yet, in responding to Democrats on student loans, Republicans must use effective counterarguments and message their opposition persuasively. Public support for some form of student loan forgiveness is growing, and a successful response must reflect that reality. So far, the GOP seems to be focusing on two main points. The first is that student loan forgiveness is “unfair” to people who have already paid back their loans or didn’t take out loans at all. The second is the slippery slope: If the government cancels student loan debt, why stop there? Why not eliminate medical debt, mortgage debt, or even auto debt? Both arguments are fine — the point about unfairness is especially valid on the merits — but they just aren’t sufficient. Let’s consider why and examine a different strategy Republicans could apply.

In February 2020, College Finance released the results of a wide-ranging survey of 1,109 likely voters. Among the respondents, 61% said student loan forgiveness would be “fair,” 31% answered “unfair,” and 8% were neutral. The 61% who responded “fair” included 79% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and even 44% of Republicans.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to say that student loan forgiveness is “fair.” It’s not. Rather, the unfairness argument alone just isn’t persuasive. In fact, polling data demonstrates significant growth in openness to, if not outright support of, student loan forgiveness. A November 2020 Hill-HarrisX poll found 60% of registered voters support $50,000 in loan cancellation. The poll found support among 84% of Democrats, 57% of independents, and 44% of Republicans. Compare those numbers to those in the College Finance survey describing forgiveness as “fair.” In effect, emphasizing the “unfairness” argument dismisses the idea that there is a legitimate issue with $1.7 trillion, 45 million borrowers, some struggling deeply, and all the broader economic considerations.

The point is that by essentially dismissing the issue and refusing to offer alternative policies, Republicans cede the argument to Democrats.

Fortunately, there is an opportunity. Our higher education system is fundamentally broken. Decades of bipartisan government failure are responsible. We need top-to-bottom changes to the entire system. Congress has the chance to redress the problems and better people’s lives through a systemic revamp.

I submit three key steps.

First, acknowledge, define, and connect with the problem: $1.7 trillion in student loan debt is a serious issue. For years, young people were persistently told they had to get a college degree to succeed, and the price kept rising. Now, the promise of college has fallen flat, student debt holds back millions of people, and something must be done.

Second, address how we got here and show how forgiveness will make things worse. Years of government mismanagement are to blame. The government encouraged excessive loan-giving, excessive borrowing, and excessive tuition hikes galore. But mass student debt cancellation will only dramatically exacerbate these preexisting issues. It will spread the infection, not help to cure it.

Third, recognize that bipartisan support exists to restore bankruptcy protection for student loans, mandate risk-sharing for higher education institutions, and enable employers to help workers pay back loans tax-free. If Republicans are serious about defeating the false promise of student loan forgiveness, we must think outside the box, speak from the heart, and offer meaningful alternatives.

This is a good place to start.

Click here to read Jimmy’s February 10 op-ed at The Washington Examiner.

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