Inside the Politics: Student Loan Cancellation and Capitalism | Columnists

The issue of student loan forgiveness is resurfacing the national news cycle. This is not surprising given that the midterm elections are fast approaching. It would be a bit bold to say that the Democrats are re-raising the issue to win favor with voters in November. To be fair, this issue has been dragging on the national stage since at least 2015, and the Biden administration has been considering some sort of pardon program since the president took office.

Along with the problem come complaints about the cancellation of student loans. As a lifelong former Republican, I believe there are reasonable fiscal and, perhaps, moral arguments to be made about why student loan forgiveness should be limited and narrowly tailored to those who need it the most. I would also favor a program in which the loan forgiveness is more generous towards certain degrees or certificates such as career technical students (mechanics, electricians, etc.), teachers, engineers, medical professionals, etc. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not too keen on spending taxpayers’ money forgiving student loans for NYU art history majors.

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However, one of the most “popular” arguments against canceling student loans is also the most mean-spirited and myopic. It’s the classic rebuttal of “I had to pay back my loans so everyone else would too.” It sounds like my 6-year-old nephew’s argument when he refuses to go to bed because his 11-year-old brother has to stay up half an hour later.

For the record, I arrived in Idaho in 2006 with about $47,000 in student debt which I paid off in full a few years later. I had no chance of student loan forgiveness then, and I won’t in the future since the debt is gone. That being said, I have no problem with existing student borrowers receiving some kind of relief. Just because I didn’t take advantage of it doesn’t mean others shouldn’t.

By definition, “progress,” whatever form it takes, benefits the current generation in ways that the rest of us have missed. For example, I never received Obamacare or Medicaid Expansion. When I was in college and without health insurance, I couldn’t be on my parents’ health care plan or apply for Medicaid. Young men and women today can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26 or purchase a plan under the Affordable Care Act. Many of our grandparents did not have access to Medicare. Are you suggesting we take that benefit away from the millions of Americans who receive health care under the program? Even those who take more out of Medicare than they put into it? And Social Security?

And don’t get me started on the right-wingers who were asking for “handouts” during the financial crisis to help save their homes (I’ve seen hundreds of such people go bankrupt). Many of these people have been able to pay off their mortgage debt and get by. Student borrowers do not have the same luxury as student loans are almost never discharged through the bankruptcy process.

The average student loan debt for Idaho’s 218,000 borrowers is around $33,000 according to various websites that track the numbers. This equates to $7.2 billion in total student loan debt in Idaho. The total higher education budget for the Gem State this year is less than $650 million. Half of those borrowers are under 35, which means more than 100,000 “older” Idahoans are indebted for a student loan. Although Idaho’s average student loan debt is lower than the national average, we also have one of the lowest income rates in the country. In other words, $33,000 is a big change. Some kind of student forgiveness would bring much-needed relief to thousands of working families in Idaho who are struggling not only under the weight of student debt, but also skyrocketing property taxes and a government of State that favors Californians over Idahoans.

In my view, a responsible and closely tailored student loan forgiveness program is an investment in our children and our families. It is not alms. However, if you think otherwise, don’t be hypocritical about it. We have all missed opportunities that now benefit younger generations.

This is how progress works. This is how it should be.

Jeremy J. Gugino is a Democratic communications volunteer.

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