President Joe Biden is attempting to unilaterally erase $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals with incomes below $125,000 and households that earn less than $250,000 annually. His executive order (some would say fiat) was signed under the auspicious umbrella of the (length yet to be determined) national COVID-19 emergency. Biden is seeking to cancel an additional $10,000 for those who received federal Pell Grants and set up an alternative payment plan (read: giveaway) for others. The plan will benefit approximately 43 million Americans who borrowed money for college; 20 million of those would see their debt erased entirely. That’s a lot of voters (ahem, beneficiaries).
This move is a campaign stump speech fulfilled by an unprecedented (read: probably illegal) attempt to deal with unpaid student debt without dealing with the broader issues of skyrocketing tuition costs. There is already bipartisan agreement regarding Biden’s (lack of) authority for doing so, and the move will beget warranted legal challenges. Of course, Biden couldn’t address the real issue without offending his base of liberal professors and their union apologists, so demanding that working people who didn’t get to go to college must pay for other people’s loans has to suffice.
This order is a classic example of the government creating a problem, letting the people twist a bit, and then swooping in to fix the problem they created in the first place. President Obama signed legislation in 2010 that forced the end of a decades-old program where private sector lenders received federal subsidies for making government-backed college loans. That bill placed student loan management under the U.S. Department of Education. The law was a top-down funnel of control, a bit like Obamacare, in that students could no longer choose their own lender. If you needed a loan to go to college, the U.S. government would determine that need and manage it. Unsurprisingly, student loan debt exploded from 2010-2021: $811 billion to $1.7 trillion.
Echoing in the recesses of my mind is the voice of Ronald Reagan: “Government is not a solution to our problem – government is the problem.”
Americans of all political stripes denounced Biden’s plan as an insult to those who have repaid their debts and to those who didn’t attend college. Loans for graduate degrees are more than half of all currently outstanding loans. Americans with graduate degrees will literally be making millions of dollars more in their extended careers than the average high school graduate. How is it moral to demand that the working poor and high school grads pay for voluntary graduate school debt? Spoiler alert: it’s not.
Biden’s $500 billion plan includes an extension on the paused repayment plan and pure debt cancellation (note: I intentionally didn’t use the term forgiveness). There is an effort from the left to defend the scheme by comparing the loan “forgiveness” edict with the recent Paycheck Protection Program. If we can give business loans in response to a crisis, why not also pad the pockets of suffering graduate students? In my opinion, the only thing that the two concepts have in common is that they are both in reaction to the worst public policy and public health debacle in the history of our nation: the COVID-19 (over)response. Despite that notable commonality, student loan recipients signed legal contracts to pay the loans back; there was no expectation of “forgiveness” (though I’m confident there will be now). With PPP loans, though, I’m sure there was fraud, and I’m also sure there were some who took the money when they didn’t need it and/or squandered it. No president directly transferred the responsibility of payments to other businesses that didn’t apply for them and didn’t benefit from them. It’s also notable that PPP payments (warts and all) were legislative action in response to a crisis and not a unilateral move by the executive office during a period of relative economic health and an unemployment rate below 3%.
Some liberals are attempting to make a political comparison to the Trump tax cuts. Of course, tax cuts are a completely different animal due to the fact that they’re not loans or forced income redistribution. Cuts magnanimously allow citizens to keep their own money and aren’t accomplished by presidential edict. It seems as though many leftists believe every earned dollar belongs to the government and that whatever they “let” us keep is a gift to the citizenry. That is false. Further, those on both the left and the right who continually vote for politicians who believe it’s their job to dispense taxpayer money in order to curry favor with friends and voters are part of the problem. The bacon politicians are bringing home should have already been in your freezer.
The U.S. government’s guarantee of collegiate loans was already morally hazardous; this new policy of arbitrary erasure exacerbates the overarching problem of artificially high college tuition. Surely the fact that the president unilaterally broke existing contracts for a narrow group of voters (probably unconstitutionally) and then transferred those payment obligations to other taxpayers makes it relevant to examine from a moral standpoint.
Progressive Christians, who have been increasingly ignoring scripture in regards to basically every social policy issue, suddenly found their Bibles and started quoting passages regarding debt forgiveness; some even compared Biden’s $10,000 vote-buying scheme to the physical and spiritual sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. God freely taking on the sin (debt) of the world is not the same as government (not God) forcing you to pay a debt that your neighbor took of his own volition and owes someone else. While I welcome their new attention to fiscal matters (and scripture in general), comparing one’s understanding of salvation to a governmental action that isn’t even constitutional (much less biblical) says more about their lack of biblical understanding than anything about Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a socialist. Income redistribution by governmental force isn’t biblical - it’s theft. Never confuse the gospel of Jesus Christ with socialism; that is a deadly mistake. God doesn’t need you to send your money to D.C. or to Montgomery for His work to be accomplished. God doesn’t need any government authority to fulfill the work of the cross. It is finished.
Of course, there were also those feigning frustration that more Christians didn’t immediately back this illegal proposal of debt transfer. Perhaps those people have an alternative biblical understanding. Intentionally increasing taxes on the poor in order to benefit the wealthy is the definition of regressive fiscal policy. Increasing the obligations of the lowest rung of taxpayers to benefit those in the highest echelons of society is wrong; doing so in the middle of an inflationary period is just plain mean. I’m not sure why people speaking up against the working poor being forced to pay for governmental malfeasance and personal irresponsibility is offensive, but I’m happy to be called offensive if it is.
When governmental authorities arbitrarily negate the terms of binding contracts in order to serve as the arbiter of “forgiveness” at the expense of others, it’s not a debt forgiven. It’s a debt transferred. Government isn’t God. When government authorities pass out goodies to their cronies and post pictures of themselves with huge cardboard checks as if they work for Publishers Clearing House, and they’re giving away the grand prize, take note. There is no such thing as government money. Taxpayers fund the government. Government isn’t a piggy bank. The piggy bank is us.
Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information [email protected].
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