The nation now owes close to $1.4 Trillion in student loan debt, up nearly $1 Trillion from 2008 when the current president took office. Judging from the rhetoric coming from both Bernie SandersBernie SandersWe are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Overnight Health Care — Biden's Supreme Court setback Republican rep who voted to impeach Trump running for reelection MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNYT columnist floats Biden-Cheney ticket in 2024 Centrist Democrats urge progressives to tamp down rhetoric Stacey Abrams's shocking snub of Biden, Harris signals possible 2024 aspirations MORE, one would think that both candidates have this problem square in their sights. However, they do not.
Anyone who knows anything about this issue knows that student loans have been uniquely stripped of nearly every standard consumer protection there is. Bankruptcy rights, to statutes of limitations, and other core protections that exist for every other type of loan no longer exist for student loans. This has created a hyper-inflationary higher education market, and a predatory lending system the likes of which has never before been seen in this country.
When Clinton was in the Senate in 2006, she introduced a Student Borrower Bill of Rights Act that paved the way for the return of bankruptcy protections to federal student loans. Clinton, however, has not so much as uttered “bankruptcy” and “student loans” in the same sentence since she announced her candidacy for the 2016 election. She appears to have chosen to ignore returning this constitutionally mandated consumer protection in lockstep with the Center for American Progress, whose higher education policy is now led by a good-ole-boy from the Department of Education, the federal agency that profits tens of billions per year of the program, and even makes a profit on defaulted loans. The Department of Education fights tooth and nail behind the scenes to keep bankruptcy gone from federal student loans.
Bernie Sanders was quick to loudly and clearly call for Puerto Rico to be allowed to work out their debt in bankruptcy proceedings, but for the entirety of his primary campaign, he failed to even acknowledge the astonishing removal of bankruptcy and other consumer protections from student loans. This surely cost him enough votes to lose the primaries.
Jeb Bush, to his credit, included the return of standard bankruptcy protections to student loans in his platform. While Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE has not said anything to this point about how he would fix the student loan program, he at least recognizes the fact that the government has no business making the obscene profits that it does off of this program. Trump could and should turn the bankruptcy issue from a negative into a positive by using the student loan example to demonstrate why bankruptcy is so important, and why the founding fathers put it near the top of the list when they gave Congress its powers.
There are 44 million people in the nation with student loans, and most of them vote. While almost none of them want to go through a bankruptcy on account of their student loans (and very few ultimately would), all of them feel the predatory weight of this lending system on their backs in the absence of bankruptcy rights, and the other consumer protections that have been eliminated from the program.
These voters are hearing nothing meaningful from either of the candidates who will be in Philadelphia next month. Trump can and should make them pay for throwing this voting block under the liberal limosine. These are enough voters to turn a loss into a landslide, and vice versa.
Alan Collinge is Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org and author of The Student Loan Scam (Beacon Press).