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The race for President is heating up as we near the Democratic and Republican primaries. (Side note: is it just me, or does it feel like we’re in a permanent state of “election mode” here?). Student loan debt is increasingly becoming one of the biggest policy topics at all levels of our society’s political discourse. But where do the presidential candidates stand? Do they support the rights of student loan borrowers? Are they interested in reforming the student loan system? Are they proposing specific changes to student loan laws to ease the burden of student debt?
I’ve been doing some research to see what I can find on the presidential candidates’ public positions on student loans. This week, I’ll be looking at the Democratic candidates. Next week, I’ll take a look at the Republican field.
Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton just came out with her new college affordability and student loan management plan, which she is calling the “New College Compact.” Her proposal includes providing federal incentives for states to make public universities debt-free for students; a continuance of the Obama administration’s proposal for free community college; streamlined and simplified 10% income-based repayment programs for all federal student loan borrowers; and refinancing options for borrowers to lower their interest rates. The plan is comprehensive and expensive – $350 billion over 10 years – and would be paid for by eliminating tax deductions for the wealthiest Americans. It does not seem to include specific relief geared towards private student loan borrowers.
Bernie Sanders: Sanders has nothing on his official website about student loans. He has stated publicly, however, that he supports allowing federal student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at lower interest rates. Sanders goes a bit further than Clinton in college affordability, stating he wants to make all public colleges and universities completely free; he would pay for the cost by taxing Wall Street. He has said little, though, about providing other forms of relief to borrowers currently in repayment.
Martin O’Malley: O’Malley has a fairly comprehensive student loan reform proposal that has some novel touches. This may be of no surprise – the press has reported that O’Malley has accumulated approximately $340,000.00 in student loans to put his children through college (perhaps he should give me a call – Parent PLUS loans are terrible). He supports a program to allow every high school student to graduate with a year of college credit or an apprenticeship for a vocational program. O’Malley has also called for tuition freezes and caps at public colleges and universities, student loan refinancing programs for current borrowers, and increased Pell Grants to reduce reliance on debt to finance college education.
Lincoln Chafee: Lincoln Chafee has nothing on his website that specifically mentions student loans or student loan borrowers, and I couldn’t find much in the way of recent policy positions on student debt. While he was governor of Rhode Island, however, Chafee signed legislation to extend in-state tuition, and he helped create a zero-interest student loan program for certain nursing students. While Senator, he voted for increases to Pell Grant and student loan forgiveness programs. So we can make some inferences here, but that’s the most we can do so far.
Between the four candidates, Clinton and O’Malley seem to have the most comprehensive and detailed plans for student borrowers, and each has some promising elements. They all seem to leave out some important reforms, however, such as providing more relief to private student loan borrowers, re-introducing bankruptcy protections for student loans, and curtailing the draconian collections powers employed against borrowers who fall behind. Still, these plans are encouraging signs that student loan debt is going to play a pivotal roll in the 2016 election and the next Presidential administration.
Next week, I’ll see what the Republican field has to offer. Stay tuned.