Signs Are Building That GOP Will Face A Significant Backlash Over Student Loan Debt

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Signs are multiplying that Republicans in Congress are headed for trouble because of their refusal to keep college debt low. First of all, the Oregon legislature unanimously passed a bill authorizing a ‘pay-it-forward’ plan under which students would not pay tuition while attending any of the seven state universities, but would commit 3% of their future earnings for 24 years to repaying the state–thus providing funds to continue the program.

The success of the initiative is due to a push from students at Portland State University who had a hand in developing it. Students at University of California Riverside have made a similar proposal called the UC Student Investment Proposal, which would let California students enroll with no fees if they pay 5% of their future earnings for 20 years.

Clearly, young people are driving the momentum to find ways around the mountainous student loan debt that currently accrues, and which is getting no relief from Congress. However, the issue has already been seized upon in a race for the U.S. Senate–a foretaste of what is to come in 2014 and beyond.

Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, is running for the Senate in a special election. The death of Senator Frank Lautenberg created a vacancy that will be filled through an election in October. On Monday, Booker released a 15 page report on ending child poverty in America that includes a plan for the U.S. government to make a college education affordable. He wrote:

Congress must reverse its recent failure to keep federal student loan rates from doubling and make post-secondary education more affordable.

He then proposed a plan for households that use the Earned Income Tax Credit to have tuition trust accounts set up for their children to which the government would deposit $400 per child, per year, with the possibility of supplemental funds being deposited from other sources.

Of course, we don’t have a Congress that’s going to come close to adopting such a proposal to address college costs. But the point is that the issue is arising now, reform is being demanded by the young as well as their parents, and it will continue to take on significance as the 2014 and 2016 elections grow nearer.

Booker is in an excellent position to push hard on the issue. He has a commanding lead over the other Democratic candidates in the state’s primary. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows he has 52% of the vote in a four-way race. The same poll shows he holds a strong lead in the general election, 53% to 30%, over the likely Republican candidate, Steve Lonegan.

Booker and the nation’s students are laying a foundation. Senator Elizabeth Warren, too, has made an innovative proposal to bring relief to students, though it has yet to gain traction. Still, momentum is something that builds. There is hope that, for those seeking a higher education, help is on the way.