New Lawmakers, Student Debt and Other Government Benefits

November 28, 2010; Source: The Spokesman-Review | Quick, what do Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Tea Party-supported freshman Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) have in common? All of them went to college with the help of federal student loans. The President and the First Lady paid off their student loans as a result of his two best-selling books, but the 42-year-old Idahoan is still paying off his loans. Labrador may not be the only federal legislator with federal student loans to pay off, but what makes his case interesting is that he and his Tea Party acolytes advocate vastly truncating the size and scope of federal government programs—except apparently when they can use the programs themselves. Acknowledging having taken only a small loan for his undergraduate education and larger loans for law school, though attending a law school where he could pay in-state tuition, Labrador said that he hadn’t formulated an opinion on whether the federal student loan program should be changed in any way. This may be the challenge for the Tea Partiers. On one hand, they railed against the federal government’s intrusion into people’s lives, calling for a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach for people in need. Labrador, for example, ran to the right of some very conservative candidates to win the Republican nomination and the general election. On the other hand, unless they were living in hermetically-sealed bubbles, Tea Partiers like Labrador have been the beneficiaries of governmental programs of direct and indirect subsidized assistance. Let’s see if the Tea Partying freshman Congressional class will own up to having partaken in the benefits of the government programs, including many delivered by nonprofit organizations, that they may now call for cutting out of the federal budget.—Rick Cohen