Home » Uncategorized » An Open Thank You Note to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney for his Fight Against Student Loans

An Open Thank You Note to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney for his Fight Against Student Loans

Dear Congressman Courtney –

I want to applaud you for taking a stand on student loan debt.  You seem to be everywhere on the issue, sponsoring bills like H.R. 3826 to prevent interest rates from doubling and responding to stupid Republicans who misunderstand the issue.

While this is a step in the right direction, but for some students, it is not enough. I would beg you to take your leadership of the student loan debt crisis a step further and co- sponsor of H.R. 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012.

Rep. Hansen Clarke, your Democratic colleague serving Michigan’s 13th district (Detroit) introduced H.R. 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 on March 8, 2012. He has accrued five co-sponsors – all Democrats – including Rep. John Conyers and Rep. Jan Schakowsky. You should be number 6.

I am sure Rep. Clarke appreciated your rejoinder to the ignorant comments of Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican of North Carolina. Rep. Foxx, speaking on the radio with Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy, said that she has very little tolerance for people who complain after they graduate from university with student loan debt.

Rep. Foxx seems to subscribe to the discredited Horatio Alger myth of pulling yourselves up by your bootstraps. She grew up poor and hit it rich, though, so why can’t everybody else? She didn’t have electricity and running water until she was 14, and graduated from the public University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she was 25.

Foxx is 68 now, and worth millions.  How a college professor became a multimillionaire is another story. But her comment shows her ignorance of how college tuition has increased in some cases by 600 percent since she graduated.

Your reply to her on the floor of the House, that Stafford student loans are named after a Republican Senator from Vermont, was more polite than I would’ve been. We all know that today’s GOP – threatening to double interest on student loans – would be unrecognizable Sen. Robert Stafford.

Given the Republican Party’s drift towards insanity, Rep. Clarke’s H.R. 4170 provides a counterbalance. The bill has several key objectives, summarized nicely from forgivestudentloandebt.com (.pdf here).

To paraphrase the summary, Rep. Clarke wants to make student loan repayment simple and fair. H.R. 4170 would jumpstart the economy, create jobs and help rescue student borrowers suffering through this rotten economy.

I need not remind you that 90 percent of the gains made in this “recovery” have gone to the wealthiest one percent of the population in the United States. And most of the wealth in this country is owned by people over 40, like Rep. Foxx (the 49th wealthiest member of the 435 members of the House of Representatives).

Obviously, people like her, who enjoyed affordable public college tuition, are not burdened by student loans.

But Rep. Clarke and yourself recognize how the quagmire of the $1 trillion student loan debt figure in American slows economic growth. To that end, Rep. Clarke’s plan for simple and fair student loan repayment is to set a “10-10” standard for forgiveness.

Students who pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 10 years would see their remaining federal student loan forgiven. Students who have been making payments on their loans would see a shorter repayment period, and what they have already paid would be credited to the forgiveness goal.

Furthermore, the bill would cap student loan interest at 3.4 percent. This goes to your current bill. While I would prefer to see student loan interest capped at 1 percent, which is more than what banks pay on savings accounts.

Personally, I think college tuition should be free. We don’t charge an eighth grader $13,000 a year in tuition. Although, I can see Rep. Foxx pushing legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or CONNCan calling for tuition to be imposed on children. It is not far from where we are now.

H.R. 4170 also allows graduates to convert their private student loan debt to federal debt and enroll into the 10-10 program. Students could only convert if their average adjusted gross income is equal to or less than their total education debt.

I don’t think I would qualify for this provision, because I owe $48,000 in loans, but make a little more than that. However, I would ask that we include a provision that prevents the capitalization of interest.

As you know, in federally subsidized student loans, interest is deferred during school.  But with private lenders, interest accrues. While in law school, I needed to take both subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

I do not think it fair that the private lenders then make me pay interest on interest by capitalizing that interest which accrued while I matriculated. Do I think the $340 a month I am paying until I am 59 is fair? I signed up for it, I knew what I was getting into.

But I would feel better if I knew $340 month payment went directly to UConn Law. Perhaps we should investigate setting up public banks in states so that the schools themselves can enjoy the profits of the interest on student loans, and not student loan sharks.

I call them loan sharks because the industry titans like Al Lord (CEO of Sallie Mae) have used political muscle to make policy that racketeers would envy.

Neither your bill, H.R. 3826 or Rep. Clarke’s bill, H.R. 4170, confront John Boehner and Bill Clinton’s 1998 legacy of the changes to the bankruptcy code which prevent student loans from being dischargeable in bankruptcy. So to death and taxes add student loans as an inevitability of life.

Even with my minor quibbles, H.R. 4170 still deserves your support. I understand that political change moves at a glacial pace, and I understand that we need to do what we can where we can, which is why I am trying to be pragmatic here.

Incidentally, H.R. 4170 is not a giveaway, since it caps forgiveness at $45,520 in loans, based on the projected cost of a public university education today. H.R. 4170 looks for fiscal responsibility from students.

H.R. 4170 is a step in the direction of free college tuition. I would ask that you please join it as a co-sponsor, and continue your just campaign to reduce the shackles of indentured service that student loans really are.

Thank you again for your continued support of students across America. My 8-year-old niece and all the children of my friends and family members totally appreciate it, even though they don’t know it yet.

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