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Why Did Elizabeth Warren Pick a “Pay For” That Would Never Pass for Student Loan Reform Bill?

Elizabeth Warren’s Student Loan bill seemed more like a political stunt than something that was actually designed to pass

I confess to being cynical.  But remember when the first thing the Democratic House passed in 2006 was prescription drug reform — only to renounce it when they actually had the power to get it through?  Somehow Elizabeth Warren’s Student Loan reform bill feels like a similar political stunt that was never meant to actually pass.

The thing that doesn’t pass the smell test is the pay-for.

Warren’s bill would pay for refinancing students’ loans by raising taxes on the wealthy, a guaranteed non-starter for Republicans in the Senate and the House. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — who Tuesday said Democrats will bring it back to the floor in the future if it fails to pass Congress — has in the past said that paying for a student loan bill using the so-called “Buffet rule” is a surefire way to politicize it.

But Warren and other Democrats have cast the bill as a choice between helping students and helping the rich.

“With this vote, we show the American people who we work for in the United States Senate: billionaires or students,” Warren said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Actually, what you showed me is that (a) you’re not aware of the need for 60 votes to pass cloture, or (b) you didn’t know that protecting the rights of the rich is what Republicans run on, or (c) you never really intended for this to pass and it was a stunt to help Democrats have a nice talking point in advance of the November election.

I pick “C.”

Every year USPIRG gets together with the National Taxpayer’s Union and comes up with a report called Toward Common Ground, which includes budget cuts that are acceptable to both conservatives and liberals.  It’s a pretty impressive document that I’ve written about before.  Elizabeth Warren needed to come up with $55 billion to pay for her Student Loan bill.  Here are a few items from the 2013 TCG report report (PDF):

  • $151.6 billion savings in wasteful subsidies
  • $197.2 billion from addressing outdated or ineffective military programs
  • $42.3 billion from improving program execution and government operations
  • $131.6 billion from reforms to entitlement programs

All of these recommendations have the approval of the American Taxpayers Union, a very conservative group.  Including any of these as a “pay for” would have had a much better chance of winning over GOP votes to get to the magical 60.

However, had the bill actually passed, the banks would’ve gone nuts.  And nobody wants that in an election year.

Passing student loan reform is critically necessary.  An entire generation is being crushed under the burden of loans in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars they can never hope to repay.  The next time anyone puts student loan reform to the vote, I hope they find a less hackish, partisan PR stunt-like way to pay for it.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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