A lot of people think Senator Elizabeth Warren is a fierce advocate for college-loan debtors, a feisty bulldog who strives mightily to get some relief for the millions of young Americans who are burdened with crushing student loans. I once thought so myself.
But I've become skeptical. So far,Warren's basic thrust has been to advocate for lower interest rates on federal student loans. Lower interest rates will give college-loan borrowers some relief, of course; but lower interest rates will do nothing to stop the spiraling cost of higher education--which has forced students to borrow more and more money every year in order to attend college.
And lowering interest rates will do nothing to clean up the fraud and abuse in the for-profit college industry--a problem that Warren says little about.
Earlier this week, Warren's bill to lower student-loan interest rates failed in the U.S. Senate, killed by the Republicans. The bill never had a chance of passing because it included a provision to raise taxes on the wealthy--something Republicans would never vote for.
And of course Warren knew that. Basically the bill was a cynical attempt to paint the Democratic Party as the friend of indebted college students while embarrassing the Republicans by portraying them as hardhearted protectors of the rich.
All fine theater of course, but did anything get accomplished? No--not a damn thing.
I realize of course that getting real student-loan reforms through Congress will be difficult. The for-profit industry and its lobbyists are very powerful; and the for-profits make strategic contributions to key legislators like Speaker of the House John Boehner.
But Warren could render real service simply by publicizing just how bad the student-loan mess is. She should demand, for example, that the Department of Education release information about the true default rate--not the watered-down rate that it publishes every October.
In addition, she could team up with outgoing Senator Tom Harkin and publicize how the for--profit colleges are exploiting low-income and minority students.
She could advocate for a reform of the Bankruptcy Code so that millions of insolvent student-loan debtors could discharge their loans in the bankruptcy courts.
But no--she is content to sponsor legislation that she knows will go nowhere simply to embarrass the Republicans.
I suspect that Senator Warren's core constituency in Massachusetts--all those corpulent, self-satisfied and arrogant colleges like Harvard, Boston University, Brandeis, etc. etc.--are quite happy to see their senator engage in sound and fury regarding the student loan program. They know Senator Warren's bombast will never lead to any legislation that would threaten their interests.
So just keep yakking, Elizabeth; go right on yakking.
Julie Hirschfield Davis. In School Speech, Obama Deplores Blocking of Student Debt Bill. New York Times, June 12, 2014, p. A20.