Passing Student Loan Reform with Health Care Helps Dems in 2010

05/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's been widely reported that House and Senate leadership are likely to include President Obama's plan to overhaul the student lending system in the Health Care reconciliation package. The reform would put an end to subsidizing banks that originate student loans by having the federal government originate those loans directly, a practice that's been around since the early 1990s. Doing so would save $67 billion dollars over the next ten years that would then be re-invested into our education system.

Passing President Obama's student loan overhaul through reconciliation is good policy and great politics for a democratic majority that will need to call on young Obama voters come November.

It would enable Democrats to simultaneously champion two policy initiatives that died at the hands of special interests during the Clinton Administration. While the parallels on the attempt to achieve Universal Health Care have been widely discussed, it's also important to note that President Clinton also, unsuccessfully, attempted to overhaul the student lending system. The compromise plan that ultimately passed Congress should have gradually phased into a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, the agreement became a causality of the republican majorities that came to power during the 94 midterm elections. For the last few months Sallie Mae has been adamantly lobbying on behalf of an alternative to the plan that passed the House with bipartisan support. It's another stalling tactic that would perpetuate a corrupt system in which their pockets are being cushioned by taxpayer dollars. Democrats have an opportunity to insist that on their watch, the futures of young people are not open to compromise. The hundreds of thousands of young people that would benefit from this bill have a lot more at stake than their profit margins; this bill is about their lives.

To that end, passing loan reform gives democrats the ammunition they need to re-engage young voters. Let's be clear; young people did not simply vote for Barack Obama but for the principles that he spoke of and the policies that he promised. Among them, they voted to make college more affordable. A recent study released by Harvard University's Institute of Politics speaks of their frustration and reveals that 45% of the 18-29 year olds polled "are concerned about their ability to stay in college given the state of the economy." Passing loan reform indicates that democrats hear them and that they're doing something about it.

Many of the surge voters who were the difference between victory and defeat for President Obama in states like North Carolina and Indiana are not engaged in the day to day tit for tat that consumes Washington. They voted for a Presidential candidate unaware of how significant this Congress would be in determining whether or not his promises came to fruition. Progressive policies have been stalled in the Senate and that's a dynamic that they shouldn't tolerate. Democrats should make the case that the President who inspired them is unable to follow through on what he promised without their help. That they are needed to come out to the polls for candidates who share in his belief that while government can't solve all of our problems, it should be able to help...candidates who in office addressed one of their biggest concern by passing student loan reform and directing $67 billion dollars to help them.

This isn't another government takeover (in fact it's already a government program), it's helping college students like the one that I met a few weeks ago in Pennsylvania. She's going into the Army reserves to alleviate some of her $70,000 in student loans. Anticipating an unfriendly job market, she's already planning on going into the Army because she "doesn't want to be a bum." After four years in college, and a stint in the reserves, this young lady is fighting not to "be a bum."

This generation isn't lazy, and they aren't apathetic. They're skeptical of a government that often lacks the will to do what's right, when doing so becomes difficult.

They believed in Barack Obama, the majority of them still do. Democrats have a chance to give them reason to believe in them too.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sara Haile-Mariam.