This week, Washington will shift its attention to the issue of student loans. Unless Congress acts, interest rates on new subsidized Stafford college loans will soon double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this, but its primary obstacle will be election year politics. The issue will test President Obama and how badly he wants to exploit rising student loan debt for his own political gain.
Congress should prevent the loan rate hike and pay for it by targeting the very root of this increase – a provision in the 2010 federal health care law that raids student aid to the tune of $9 billion in order to “pay for” other parts of ObamaCare. Since this problem is of President Obama’s own making, we should clean up this latest ObamaCare mess by ending this slush fund and applying the savings to prevent the upcoming rate increase.
For me, the issue of student loans is one that I am intimately familiar with. In fact, I was only able to afford college because of student loan and grant programs.
After high school, I attended Tarkio College in Missouri to play football. Since my parents could not afford to help me financially, the school put together a financial aid package that allowed me to pursue my dreams of going to college and playing football.
After one season, I moved back to Florida and dedicated myself more to my studies, first at community college, then the University of Florida and finally the University of Miami's law school. Throughout this time, I relied on student loans, grants and hard work.
These experiences taught me about the challenges students face in making ends meet in college, and later on as graduates trying to pay off their student loans.
I was once in their shoes as a student. And I still find myself in the shoes of many, owing Sallie Mae more than $100,000 in law school loans, for which I pay about $700 each month.
It's an experience I hope my kids don't have to go through, which is why we've set up pre-paid college tuition programs for all four.
My experiences are like those of many of the constituents I represent and millions more across America. They've taught me that making college more affordable starts with having a disciplined government that doesn't waste money on endeavors it has no business in, so it can prioritize helping young people move up the economic ladder.
My experiences also taught me that there is simply no better way to help Americans pay off their student loans than having a strong job market awaiting them upon graduation. It must then be sustained throughout their careers by having government remove tax and regulatory obstacles that prevent entrepreneurs from opening new businesses or expanding existing ones.
For this reason, in addition to resisting the temptation to play politics with people’s student loans, the president should also stop avoiding the real elephant in the room. Clearly, people with student loans have already been struggling for years and even if a student loan rate increase is averted, people will still face the more daunting challenge of a stagnant job market that the president’s policies are only making worse.
Our national debt now stands at more than $15 trillion, and we have a weak job market infected with uncertainty about what the future holds.
The president refuses to lead a government that spends no more than it takes in. He refuses to do anything to remove the long-term cloud of uncertainty stemming from our national debt.
He insists on raising taxes on the very employers we need to create job opportunities for our nation's best and brightest students.
He refuses to fix our complicated tax code, and he refuses to rein in the Washington bureaucrats making our regulatory system a nightmare for job creators.
Let’s take care of this student loan issue, so that we can move on to the more challenging work of reinvigorating our economy. But to do this, the president must rise above election year politics to help solve this easily solvable issue.
Republican Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.