September 23, 2022
When President Joe Biden’s college student loan forgiveness plan first hit the news, I wrote about an informal framework for evaluating it:
- Does the proposal fit within the proper role of the institution advancing it? (In this case, is it constitutional?)
- Is the policy well crafted to address the right problem?
- Are there any long-term implications that will cause problems in the future?
The recent letter from 22 governors opposing the plan, including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, offers a good case study on how some of the arguments against loan forgiveness fit into the informal framework above.
In the governors’ letter, the authors argue that the plan is poorly targeted, though they focus largely on the people that it impacts:
“Only 16-17 percent of Americans have federal student loan debt, and yet, your plan will require their debts be redistributed and paid by the vast majority of taxpayers. Shifting the burden of debt from the wealthy to working Americans has a regressive impact that harms lower income families. Borrowers with the most debt, such as $50,000 or more, almost exclusively have graduate degrees, meaning hourly workers will pay off the master’s and doctorate degrees of high salaried lawyers, doctors, and professors. What’s more, the top 20 percent of earning households hold $3 in student debt for every $1 held by the bottom quintile, generating a lopsided reality where the wealthy benefit at the expense of the working.”
They also combine the critique that the proposal is poorly targeted with a warning about long-term unintended consequences, arguing that the plan will:
“encourage more student borrowing, incentivize higher tuition rates, and drive-up inflation even further, negatively impacting every American. … Rather than addressing the rising cost of tuition for higher education or working to lower interest rates for student loans, your plan kicks the can down the road and makes today’s problems worse for tomorrow’s students.”
Lastly, the governors cite their constitutional concerns with a closing shot:
“[O]pposition to your plan includes more than economic objections but process problems as well. As president, you lack the authority to wield unilateral action to usher in a sweeping student loan cancellation plan.”
If you want to get a deeper grasp on the arguments being made opposing loan forgiveness, I recommend reading the governors’ letter in full. In addition, understanding the history of the issue will enhance your perspective. My colleague Derek Monson provides a more in-depth profile of the history of student loans here. Derek’s piece also features a handy infographic that visualizes just how quickly student loan debt has grown in the United States.
While the public dialogue on this issue continues, it’s helpful to pay attention to how people are framing their arguments. If you’re able to articulate your position through a constitutional lens, supported by a well-targeted policy approach that avoids negative unintended consequences, the quality and substance of public debate will be improved – something we should all strive for.
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