Neil Fitzgerald | Getting Serious About Student Debt

Neil Fitzgerald

There is a well-known saying: “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts,” or to be more up to date, “Beware Biden Campaign Promises.”

The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down President Joe Biden’s student loan cancellation plan speaks to the core of this presidency and the Democrats overpromising and underdelivering.

Nancy Pelosi said in July 2021 when she was speaker of the House, “People think that the president of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness,” she said. “He does not. He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power.” Pelosi argued that student loan forgiveness can only be accomplished through “an act of Congress.”

If the Democrats had been serious about student debt, they could have put forward a bill when they controlled both houses. Indeed, they could have avoided a filibuster by including student debt relief in their budget and using the process of reconciliation. Reconciliation starts with the congressional budget resolution. The budget cannot be stalled in the Senate by filibuster.

But they didn’t because they knew deep down that giving 13% of the population a financial advantage over 87% of the population was too hard of a sell.

I went to university, and I had to work part-time to put myself through it. I was lucky to have some financial support from my grandmother. I had a student loan, like many others.

My issue and the reason why Republicans don’t agree with President Biden’s plan is because it is not fair on the 87% of Americans who don’t have student loans, especially since the Democrats caused rampant inflation.

For the Fourth of July holiday, a cookout this year was at the second highest cost ever, with only 2022 (another Democrat year) being worse. The price of a burger and fries, or potato salad, kept costs particularly high as 2 pounds of beef rose 4% this year to $11.54, while the potatoes increased 5% to $3.44 for 2.5 pounds, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

No one is seriously suggesting that college should only be for the very rich or that those from poorer backgrounds should be denied the chance to get on in life. Part of being an American is having the opportunity to make your dreams come true, but we aren’t going to achieve that if we make 87% of the taxpayers poorer to help 13% of people.

A college education isn’t for everyone. Republicans introduced industry-recognized apprentice programs (IRAPS), allowing businesses and trade groups to create and oversee their own apprenticeships, but the Biden Administration scrapped these because the unions objected. The IRAP program focused on targeted apprentices that business wanted, not what the unions or bureaucrats wanted. But President Biden doesn’t understand this and nor is his administration willing to compromise on the student debt issue.

The Republicans have been calling on the education secretary to meet with Senate and House committees before July 20 to discuss next steps. The secretary has avoided congressional oversight and Republicans are demanding a briefing to explain the department’s plans.

Republicans put forward a bill, which passed both houses, to end the federal pause on repayments and dismantle the administration’s student loan debt cancellation plan. As expected, the bill was vetoed by President Biden.

Our alternative is rooted in being fair and deploying common sense. Our bill is called the Federal Assistance to Initiate Repayment Act. This bill would

• Allow student loan borrowers to access affordable and burden-free repayment options.

• Require the education secretary to make “at least 12 notifications” to borrowers before repayment begins — including options for repayment, the deadline and more.

• Create an income-driven repayment plan, set at 10% of borrowers’ discretionary income, and would automatically have borrowers repaying based on their income.

• Interest would be paused.

• Half of a borrower’s payment would go toward the principal for those with adjusted gross income that is less than 300% of the federal poverty line — or $45,675 for people under 65.

• The FAIR Act would also offer various deferment and forbearance options, such as medical residency and active-duty military and National Guard duty.

This is a fiscally responsible and targeted response. Borrowers need clear guidance on repayment, we can all agree on that, but surely, we can also agree that we must protect all taxpayers. 

If Democrats were serious about helping borrowers in need, they would support this bill, and if they were serious about helping everyone move on in life, they would truly support apprentice schemes, not pull up the drawbridge as the unions didn’t like them.

Neil Fitzgerald is an international nonprofit leader having served in the U.S., U.K. and globally for various nonprofit and charity boards. He served as a conservative council member in the U.K. and as a campaign manager. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans. 

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