Debtor gratitude

·10 min read

The White House announced this week that it expects that around 40 million Americans will be affected by its program to erase up to $20,000 in student loan debt. It expects that around 20 million Americans will have their full balance erased by the program.

Progressives, particularly young people who elected to go to 4-year colleges as tuition soared and then graduated into an economy crippled by the Great Recession, have long pushed for the federal government to do something about student loan debt.

They argue that they shouldn’t be held to a financial decision made at 18-years-old, amid rhetoric that attending college was the only way to have a secure financial future. They argue that college costs much, much more than it did when people like 79-year-old President Joe Biden, 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 80-year-old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attended the University of Delaware, Trinity Washington University and the University of Louisville, respectively.

So, using powers granted to the executive branch during a national emergency (in this case COVID-19), Biden pledged to forgive up to $10,000 in student debt for anyone with unpaid loans and up to $20,000 for people who received Pell Grants, which go out to the neediest Americans.

The order came with just months to go before a midterm election, serving as another attempt by Democrats to stave off Republican gains in the midterm election.

The Republican response to the proposal has varied. Mostly, they’ve painted the program as a giveaway to the rich and said it will only make inflation worse. They’ve talked about whether its fair to forgive debt when others have spent years paying theirs off.

Some, like Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, have looked for a way to block it through the courts. Others, like U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, seized on a statement by Biden that the pandemic is over, filing a bill that would end the national emergency which, if passed, would prevent the program from going into effect.

Amanda Adkins, the Republican nominee for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, threw a reference to the program in a recent singing ad, calling it “student loan manipulation” as she attempts to die her opponent, Rep. Sharice Davids, to Biden’s policies.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, this week took a different approach. He filed a bill that would put colleges and universities on the hook for student loan debt.

“For decades, universities have amassed billion-dollar endowments while teaching nonsense like men can get pregnant. All while charging extortionary tuition,” Hawley said. “Now Joe Biden wants to give away another $1 trillion to prop up the system. That’s wrong. Instead, it’s time to put universities on the hook and give students the information they need to make informed decisions.”

His legislation would make colleges and universities responsible for paying 50 percent of any student loan balance that’s in default. It would also allow student loan debt to be discharged in bankruptcy and would require colleges and universities to publish post-graduate outcomes.

While the bill likely won’t make it through a Democratic-controlled Congress, it places blame for debt at the feet of the colleges and universities that have ratcheted up tuition over the years as state funding has decreased and competition to attract students has increased.

Hawley, who used to teach at the University of Missouri, declined to answer questions about his student loan proposal at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

Meanwhile, if Biden’s program holds up to any potential legal challenges, it is expected to affect 777,300 Missourians and 360,900 Kansans.

More from Missouri

The Republican-controlled Missouri Senate approved a bill to cut the state’s income tax, lowering it from 5.3% to 4.95% starting next year. Lawmakers also took an approach where further breaks are triggered if the state hits certain revenue growth goals, meaning the rate could drop to 4.5% in the next five years. It still has to be passed by the Missouri House and signed by Parson, who called the special session with a different proposal in mind.

Here are headlines from across the state:

And across Kansas

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly went up with an ad this week in which she says “of course men should not play girls’ sports. OK, we all agree there.” The statement served as somewhat of a Rorschach test. Some accused Kelly of attempting to rewrite her record. Some said she effectively diffused GOP attacks. Others asked her to reconsider her words.

The latest from Kansas City

In Kansas City …

Have a news tip? Send it along to ddesrochers@kcstar.com

Odds and ends

Hawley exchange

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, had a tense exchange with Colleen Shogan, who is President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the National Archives and Records Administration.

In the hearing, Shogan stressed the importance of non-partisanship in the role. Hawley pounced, producing an academic article she wrote in 2007, titled “Anti-Intellectualism in the Modern Presidency: A Republican Populism.”

Shogun writes that Republican presidents adopted anti-intellectual rhetoric in order to avoid accusations of elitism. She highlights three in particular — Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. She says they adopted anti-intellectualism as a political tactic, using it to disarm their opponents and connect with voters.

Hawley said the article was calling Republicans stupid.

“You wrote an article saying basically that Republican voters are stupid, that Republican presidents deliberately appeal to anti-intellectualism,” Hawley said. “You roll it all up into this thing called Republican populism, but you’re trying to present yourself here as a non-partisan. In fact, you’re extreme partisan and your record shows that.”

Shogan wrote a sentence in the article saying that anti-intellectualism is not the same as stupidity.

“Despite these negative opinions, anti-intellectuals are not necessarily unintelligent or dismissive of smart people,” she wrote. “Instead, anti-intellectualism is best characterized as a specific type of anti-elitism.”

Hawley used the article to make a larger argument about the National Archives, saying the organization had become politicized. The Department of Justice’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified information came after the National Archives found classified documents in the boxes he took to his Mar-a-Lago resort and later turned over to the Archives.

In its investigation, the Department of Justice found top secret classified documents at the former president’s resort, including some that dealt with a foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities.

Disclose Act

Democrats launched another failed effort at campaign finance reform on Thursday, when Republicans blocked a bill called the Disclose Act. The legislation is an attempt to scale back anonymous donations to campaigns, a practice that proliferated after the 2010 Citizen’s United ruling — resulting in the billions we see spent each election cycle.

Supporters of campaign finance reform say that the secret money that pours into our elections gives too much control to the very wealthy and prevents voters from making an informed decision at the ballot box, because they don’t know all the forces behind a specific campaign.

The battle over whether Congress should put more restrictions on campaign finance is more than two decades old. In 2002, Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, teamed up to pass a campaign finance reform act. One of its biggest opponents was a senator from Kentucky — Mitch McConnell.

McConnell lost his battle. The bill passed and he lost a legal challenge in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. But he ultimately won the war. With the court’s Citizen’s United ruling seven years later, political donations were put in the same category as free speech and given first amendment protections.

That was his line of argument on the Senate floor Thursday when he urged Republicans to block the new campaign finance bill, which had the support of all of the Senate Democrats.

“Today’s liberal pet priority is a piece of legislation designed to give unelected federal bureaucrats vastly more power over private citizens’ first amendment rights and political activism and to usurp privacy away from Americans who speak out about politics in their private lives,” McConnell said.

Democrats have benefited from the looser campaign finance laws as much of the Republicans, if not more so. In the current cycle, the Senate Democrats are outraising the Republicans. Still, the bill failed to overcome the filibuster on a party line vote, with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition.

Are campaign songs back?

Amanda Adkins, the Republican nominee for Congress in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, launched an ad this week with a song detailing the ways she thinks her Democratic opponent, Rep. Sharice Davids, is tied to President Joe Biden.

It’s part of a larger effort Adkins and the Republicans are making to tie Davids to Biden and national Democrats, in the hopes that voters have soured on Democratic leaders two years into Biden’s administration.

But, perhaps more important, it begs the question: are campaign songs back?

Along with Adkins’ ad jingle, Trudy Busch Valentine, Missouri’s Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, last month posted a video for an original folk-like campaign song written by a supporter. A Kansas high school student made a campaign song for state Sen. Dennis Pyle, who’s running as an independent in Kansas’ gubernatorial race.

Once a staple of the campaign trail — Frank Sinatra reworked a song called High Hopes to make it about John F. Kennedy, William Henry Harrison had “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” which contained the savage burn “Van is a used up man” — the original campaign song seemed to fizzle out by the 1980s.

Instead, they’ve been replaced by politicians use a signature song when they finish their speeches. John McCain apparently used the ABBA song “Take a Chance on Me.” For Hillary Clinton, it was Fight Song by Rachel Platten. For Trump it was You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones. Biden walked off to We Take Care of Our Own by Bruce Springsteen.

That doesn’t mean original songs disappeared entirely. In 2008, John McCain had a song called “Raising McCain” by John Rich and Will.i.am. wrote a song for Barack Obama called “Yes We Can.” The Biden administration even commissioned a song by JoJo, called The Change.

Happy Friday

Read this heartbreaking story about a woman killed while walking the dog. I am going to West Virginia this weekend, so you should learn about the pepperoni roll. Whenever I go to Appalachia I get in the mood to listen to good country songs, like this one or this one.

Enjoy your weekend.

Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent
Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent

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