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DANA PERINO: Beware of Democrats' OTHER Public Option

While Americans were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the health care reform proposals passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, another government takeover proposal was in the works. -- This time the Democrats want the federal government to be in charge of student loans.

After health care, families point to education as the most important part of a family savings plan. Some families are not able to afford the tuition and fees at many of our colleges and universities, and so they have to turn to lenders to help them out. These loans are seen as a good investment because by getting a higher education the student will improve his or her earning capacity that will allow them to pay off the loan when they land a good paying job after school. A wide range of options has existed for a long time to help families choose the right option for them, but those options are on the chopping block.

Last fall, the Democrats passed legislation to create a “public option” for student loans and the next step in its passage is in the Senate. The only think that's holding Democrats back from passing this legislation is the tricky business of trying to get the health care bill passed in time for the president to have a grand signing ceremony before his State of the Union address.

If you thought the public option -- as it was proposed for health care was bad, get a load of this: the student loan legislation does not just set up a government-run option for student lending, the bill makes the government the only option! It promises to bring complete federalization of the student loan process to a private marketplace. Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin’s plan for the bill is to jam this single-payer student loan system through an unpopular process known as "reconciliation," all the while ignoring any of the bipartisan alternatives that have been presented. -- A truly odd decision coming off a contentious health care fight that’s left the majority of Americans with a bad taste in their mouths.

As with the shadowy and confusing language of the health care debate, you have to get past the rhetoric that sounds perfectly reasonable to figure out what is really going on. Their words reflect a desire to keep choice and competition in the student loan market. During his September health care address to Congress the president said: “My guiding principle is and always has been that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. That's how the market works.” In a cable news interview last year, Harkin said: “The one thing, I think, the people understand that we have to have is, we have to have choice and competition.”

On that we may all be able to agree -- but that’s not at all how their student loan bill works. It would not only eliminate all choice and competition in the student lending market, but it also would risk tens of thousands of private sector job losses -- the last thing we need with double-digit unemployment.

One thing is certain, consumers see the best results when they are empowered to choose which options best suit their needs. Maintaining a diverse array of private student lenders -- for-profits and non-profits, local and national -- would ensure that a retail market is preserved as a means to promote innovation and customer service excellence. Just as none of us want to be forced into a health insurance policy that pays for things we don’t want or need, it’s also a mistake when a high school senior only has one government-mandated option to finance their college education.

If Congress wants Americans to have health care and student loans that work for them, they should support reforms that *drive down* costs and let families shop around for the products best suit their needs. The principles of “choice and competition” cannot just be meaningless, throw-away lines that the Democrats use when they want to get their way. Republicans and like-minded Democrats should ensure that these principles are maintained in the student loan market in order to preserve jobs in a tough economy and prevent the country from spiraling further into debt.

When it comes to student loans, the last thing Americans need is another government takeover. Everyone better pay attention to what’s going on while all eyes are fixed on the health care bill, or that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Dana Perino is a Fox News contributor and former White House press secretary.

Dana Perino currently serves as co-host of FOX News Channel's "The Five" (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). She previously served as Press Secretary for President George W. Bush. Ms. Perino joined the network in 2009 as a contributor. Click here for more information on Dana Perino