It is ironic that although the symbol of the Republican Party is an elephant, Republicans fail to see the massive elephant in the room when it comes to President Biden’s plan to cancel student loan debt.

According to Student Loan Hero—a company “founded to help student loan borrowers organize, manage, and repay their student loan debt” by helping “student loan borrowers understand their student loans and make smarter, more informed repayment decisions”:

  • There is nearly $1.75 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt.
  • About 48 million Americans have student loan debt.
  • 55% of bachelor degree recipients graduating from four-year public and private nonprofit colleges in 2020 had student loan debt.
  • The average debt at graduation from four-year public and private nonprofit colleges was $28,400 in 2020.
  • Students and parents borrowed an estimated $95.9 billion in the 2020–2021 academic year.

Although about 90 percent of student loan borrowers pay back their loans on time, President Biden—in a political move before the upcoming midterm election—made good on his campaign promise to cancel $10,000 of student debt, and then some.

According to a White House “Fact Sheet”:

The Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non—Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples).

In addition, the Department of Education is proposing a rule to do the following:

For undergraduate loans, cut in half the amount that borrowers have to pay each month, from 10% to 5% of discretionary income.,

Raise the amount of income that is considered nondiscretionary income and therefore protected from repayment.

Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with original loan balances of $12,000 or less.

Cover borrowers’ unpaid monthly interest.

And then to sweeten the deal, the White House also says that the debt relief will not be treated as taxable income for federal income tax purposes.

As expected, Republicans are livid about the president’s plan.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) released a statement slamming the program as “Biden’s bailout for the wealthy.” Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said that the plan “forces blue-collar workers to subsidize white-collar graduate students. Instead of demanding accountability from an underperforming higher-education sector that pushes so many young Americans into massive debt, the administration’s unilateral plan baptizes a broken system.” The conservatives at National Review editorialized: “Biden is effectively telling all the people who didn’t go to college, those who went to college but didn’t borrow money, and those who went to college and already paid off their loans that they are suckers. The lucky few who just so happen to have student debt at this arbitrary moment get a windfall at the expense of everyone else.”

But even though the call to abolish student loan debt has been a major goal of more progressive Democrats for years, some Democrats aren’t too happy about Biden’s plan, either.

Just last year, Nancy Pelosi said: “People think that the president of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness, he does not. He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress.” Jason Furman, formerly an economic adviser to President Barack Obama, said the plan “would unnecessarily provide tens of thousands of dollars to many high-income households in a way that goes well beyond even what he promised in the heat of a Democratic primary when the problem facing the country was low inflation—not high inflation.” To be consistent, no Democrat who wants all Americans to receive a free college education courtesy of the taxpayers should object to Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.

But what is the real issue here? What is the elephant in the room that Republicans are missing?

Yes, it is true that student loan forgiveness encourages reckless borrowing, leads to higher college tuition rates, subsidizes irresponsibility, penalizes responsibility, redistributes income to middle- and upper-class Americans, buys votes from people making six-figure incomes, usurps the role of Congress, and is a regressive policy. But these things are not the real problem.

The elephant in the room is the federal student loan program itself. Under the Student Loan Reform Act of 1993, the federal government began lending directly to borrowers instead of subsidizing and guaranteeing loans through a bank.

But since when is the federal government a bank? Since when is it a legitimate purpose of government to loan money to students for college? Where in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to issue student loans? Since when is it the proper role of government to subsidize the education industry? Since when is it a legitimate purpose of government to loan money to anyone for anything?

The federal government has no money of its own. Every penny that is loaned to students has been printed out of thin air or been taken from Americans in the form of taxes. No American should be forced to pay for the education of any other American.

Yet, how many Republicans railing against Biden’s debt forgiveness plan have said any of these things? Just like Democrats, Republicans fully support federal student loans, Pell grants, and federal involvement in education.

And it’s not just federal student loans. There is an even bigger elephant that Republicans are missing. The reason why the federal government has no business having anything to do with student loans is because the federal government has no business having anything to do with education. Education is purely a state matter. Even this, of course, is not ideal, since education should be completely separated from the state. But the Constitution is clear: The federal government has absolutely no authority to have anything to do with education.

As recently as 1996, the Republican Party platform called for the elimination of the Department of Education: “The federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the work place. That is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.” But when Republicans gained control of the White House and both Houses of Congress a few years later, not only was the Department of Education not eliminated, federal spending on education skyrocketed.

The symbol of the Republican Party is indeed fitting.

Originally published at the Future of Freedom Foundation

Laurence M. Vance

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