GOP College Loan Plan Wouldn't Help Families

Republicans want to help their buddies make a few extra bucks while fewer Americans can afford college.

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Sunday, New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson wrote that 2013 has been a very good year for the financial industry. The KWB Bank Index which tracks the stock prices of 24 leading banks has risen 30 percent this year and it's at its highest level since 2008.

With financial firms doing so well, why are House Republicans pushing so hard to make some financial firms even more money on the backs of kids from working families who want to attend college? The answer is that every day in the Republican Party is a bank holiday.

House Republicans took a step last week to boost the fortunes of their backers even higher. The GOP House majority proposed changes for the college student loan program which is scheduled to expire July 1. The Republicans would allow the interest on student loans to double. This will mean even higher profits for the financial services industry. But it will end the hopes and dreams that thousands of young Americans and their families have for their future in the cut throat world economic competition.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

President Obama made his case to stop the interest rate increases in a speech last Friday. The president supports a Senate Democratic plan that would freeze interest rates for 79 million students at 3.4 percent for 2 years. Congressional Republicans want to tie the interest rate to the cost of a 10 year Treasury note. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the House Republican plan would push interest rates to 5.0 percent next year and to 7.7 percent by 2018.

If Republicans get their way, increased interest rates for 79 million college students will mean a big payday for the financial industry next year and a another step down for middle income families. Millions of college grads are already up to their armpits in debt. The Republican plan would make it even harder for young college graduates to get up from under the crushing debt that they already face.

Chinese president Xi Jinping will be in the U.S. this week. His visit should focus the United States on what it needs to do to compete economically with the emerging industrial tiger.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

The United States has fallen to 10th in the world in the percentage of people with a college degree. That may be why it's much easier for people to advance economically in Western Europe than it is in the U.S. The Republican plan will push us down even further on the education ladder and give our economic competitors in the world a leg up. If we want to compete effectively internationally, we should do everything we can to get more young people into college instead of making it more difficult for them to attend college. College is the ticket young Americans need to punch to get the training they need to compete with China and other engines of international economic growth.

The U.S. should build on its strengths. We still have the best higher education system in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of international students are currently enrolled in American colleges and universities to get the best college education in the world. We would be a lot better off if American students could afford to attend them too.  

The GOP plan to boost loan servicers at the expense of kids in working families mirrors the trends in the American economy at large. The Dow Jones Index, which measures the fortunes of corporate America on Wall Street, has hit record highs several times this year. While profits for corporate America have mushroomed, real income for middle class families has been stagnant. The Republican student loan program will accelerate an unfortunate trend that has enriched the financial industry and hurt middle class families who are working overtime just to make ends meet.

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  • Clarification 6/10/13: This post initially used the term “banks” to describe the private financial services companies that benefit from the federal student loan program. It has been edited for clarity.