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

  • Dr. R. Ruth Linden

    Tea Partiers like Labrador–indeed all US residents and citizens–are the beneficiaries of governmental programs of direct and indirect subsidized assistance. Is there something elusive here that I’m missing?

  • rick cohen

    Nope, Dr. Linden, you’re not missing anything. It’s just an oddity that people who complain about too much government intrusion into their lives have directly and indirectly been the beneficiaries of that aid. So when they call for vastly shrinking government, what parts of government’s assistance that they consumed would they have wanted to do without?

  • Stuart Shaw

    Keep holding the Tea Party’s pants to the fire!

  • rick cohen

    We like holding everyone’s pants to the fire. Truth be told, we take a lot of pride in that here at the Quarterly. But we also love having readers use the same rigor with us, demanding that we know what we’re talking about. In writing these newswires, we’re really just commenting on what we’re seeing in the cited newspaper articles, but challenges from our readers–and we get them!–are wanted and welcome. If we’re going to hold others pants to the fire, ours should be as well.

  • Jon Stallings

    Seems like a rather absurd attack to me. Are you suggesting that if someone like Raul Labrador is against the current structure of the Federal Student Loan Program he should not participate in it? If so, that seems illogical. His tax dollars are going into the program whether he supports it or not. Refusing to take advantage of a benefit he is paying for would be irrational.

    Should Obama voluntarily pay the tax rate he is advocating people in his economic circumstances should pay? Should everyone who makes more than $250,000 and believes Congress should let the tax rates on that income level expire pay the higher rate even if Bush tax cuts are renewed?

    The whole point of the political system is to try and bring about what we believe are necessary changes to make our country a better place. It’s silly to demand that people live as if changes they are advocating for have already taken place when they haven’t.

  • rick cohen

    I’m raising the question about the tendency of the Tea Party players to call for vastly cutting back government programs that they themselves use and benefit from, can they not see that if it weren’t for government programs of all sorts, they and their communities wouldn’t be where they are. I’m not demanding that Labrador and his compatriots disgorge themselves of government assistance, but to recognize its value–to them in their lives and to the communities and constituencies that they now, as members of Congress, represent. The irrationality in question is when Tea Partiers call for turning various functions to the “free market” that they have successfully used as government programs–precisely because the government made them available when the private market more likely than not wouldn’t have.