On Saturday, if Congress does not intervene, student loan interest rates for 7 million American students will double from 3.4% to 6.8%. The issue has become an excuse for political debate despite both parties insisting that they support keeping interest rates low. The deadline has brought increased attention to student loan debt, which now surpasses $1 trillion and which many economists believe to be the next big bubble bound to come crashing down.
Republicans have proposed funding the low interest rate by cutting spending on domestic programs, while Democrats have suggested adjusting certain corporate pension protections. Though both parties have incentives to find a solution (no one wants to be responsible for bankrupting young voters during an election year) the situation is bleak, with Speaker of the House John Boehner even predicting at a staff meeting that no resolution would be made by the deadline.
President Obama has demanded a resolution, saying in his weekly radio address, “there is no excuse for inaction.” It remains to be seen if this will be motivation enough for a sluggish and divided Congress. The President pins the blame on a GOP strategy of obstructionism: getting in the way of progress and hoping the blame falls somewhere else.
Economists and pundits, both Houses and both parties of Congress, and now the President have all chimed in on how to solve this burgeoning problem… but one large interest group remains silent: students. Who can blame Congress for inaction when the demographic that Washington is attempting to advocate for appears apathetic? For young voters in America to start being taken seriously, they need to join the discourse on issues important to them in a serious way.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has a strong youth component, and took student debt on as a major issue, but seems to be fading in relevance and had little to say in the way of actual policy reform demands. Meanwhile, in Quebec in 2011 and in London in 2008 hundreds of thousands of student protestors captured an international spotlight with marches and acts of civil disobedience.
Congress should pass legislation to prevent a rate hike on student loans for the good of the economy. But if students want to put an end to ever-rising tuition fees and crippling student debt, they will have to make their voices heard.