Yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced her first standalone bill on the Senate floor. The bill is The Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act and it would give students the same deal that banks get on a loan. Students who qualify would be able to receive a federal Stafford Loan at an interest rate of about 0.75%.
The bill reaches far beyond the House version, The Student Loan Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), which would permanently extend the current rate of 3.4%. That rate is set to double on July 1 if Congress doesn't act.
Senator Warren is making a serious statement by linking the student loan issue to the vitriolic hatred Americans currently have for big banks.
The move is risky.
On the one hand, the senator is using the political capital of her first standalone bill and first legislative floor speech on the issue of student loans (her first floor speech was about the Boston Bombings). As fellow PolicyMic pundit Andrea Ayres-Deets pointed out, tackling the issue was one of Warren's chief campaign promises.
As a millennial, I must commend the senator on her understanding that this is not just a problem for students in debt but for the economy as a whole. There is a new generation entering the marketplace. What we face is pretty dismal to begin with but when you add the unbreakable cycle of compounding debt, student loan debt has the potential to deflate the entire middle class structure. People can't afford to buy homes, the housing market collapses, creditors collapse — we sadly know the rest. And this time, we're starting from already-terrible circumstances.
Point is, it's going to be bad for more people than you'd think.
On the other hand, this bill is a leap. There's no telling how it will play as a bargaining maneuver. Even though the message is clear and the Democrats hold the Senate, there's not a huge chance this bill, or anything close to it, will pass. If the bill is used as a starting point for serious negotiations, then it's possible that an agreement on setting a rate close to the current 3.4% on a more permanent level may be achievable. If the bill is simply a messaging ploy to link the issue-permeating concept that banks receive unfair advantages (which they do) and that thereby makes them evil (which is more of a leap) then it won't be given the serious consideration this issue to desperately needs.
There's no question Congress needs to start talking about extending the current rate immediately. While this bill will mostly likely kick-start that conversation in the Senate, it may be a bridge too far, even for the Democrats.