OPINION: If not now, when?

BY ROBERT MORALES

If not now, when?

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill (“The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”) in the U.S. Senate that would allow borrowers to refinance student loans to a 3.86-percent interest rate. Many of us are still paying for our student loans, and many of us have interest rates that exceed 9 percent. 

Interestingly, I received an email from an old college friend of mine this week telling me that she missed a payment on her student loan by only a few days, and that she had been thrown into default status. Why, I asked? The loan servicing company had not applied at least three of the last payments to her account, and when she paid her last payment, she was informed that she was now in default.
 
Mary (not her real name) is a responsible person who worked hard as a student and worked several jobs to support herself through college. Like many of us, Mary worked through spring break to make extra money.
Today, she is a successful public relations professional in Dallas, and she and I acknowledge that we received a top-notch education at The University of Texas, and we couldn’t have done it without student financial aid.

For years, I asked my loan servicing company to reduce my interest rate of 9 percent to a more reasonable rate, and of course, that never happened. The answer from the representatives was always the same: It’s up to Congress to pass a bill to lower interest rates on federal student loans. That was many years ago, and it still hasn’t happened.

Now, finally, Sen. Warren, a feisty consumer cheerleader, has finally made that move that many of us have been waiting for. But is it time for celebrating? Unfortunately, no.

Senate Republicans have signaled they will not allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote. Why? Who knows, but this should not be a partisan issue because student loan debt affects people of both political persuasions.

Let’s be honest here. Both parties have the ear of big banks and the powerful bank lobby. It is safe to say that big banks and Wall Street firms greatly dislike Sen. Warren for her efforts in reigning in the big banks and Wall Street investment giants, and that’s an understatement.

It would be nice if our Texas delegation supported this measure, but first the bill must get out of the Senate, and it’s doubtful that either Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. John Cornyn will support it.

I don’t know any person that has received a student loan that doesn’t want to repay that liability. For those of us with outrageously high interest rates, we simply want to refinance the principal amount to current market rates. 

What’s so difficult and so controversial about that?  Of course, nothing, other than that the banks won’t earn the millions of dollars in interest charges they otherwise would have made, not to mention that the U.S. government is also making a ton of money on these loans.

There should be a price to pay for politicians in November if they succeed in derailing this bill. If banks can be bailed out as they were in 2009 to the tune of billions of dollars, then so should we, the consumers.

It’s time to send a strong message to our congressional representatives in both houses and both parties: Either support rational, reasonable legislation that will alleviate a huge financial burden off our backs, or don’t ask for our support at the ballot box when you choose to run for re-election. 

This time, we simply won’t vote.  If you don’t support us, we won’t support you. You can take that to the bank.