Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yet another reason to have it in for Blanche Lincoln

The Democratic Senator from Arkansas is at it again. On labor issues, she represents Walmart better than workers; she has also been a nasty roadblock on the way to health care reform. But a new Lincoln move is truly incomprehensible: she has hooked up with five other Dems to try to kill the administration's effort to cut banks out of the federal student loan program.

Since the government guarantees the loans, bank involvement amounts to a giveaway:

Banks have been making government-guaranteed college loans under the Federal Family Education Loan program for decades. These lenders deal directly with borrowers and collect the interest, but if the loan defaults, the government eats 97 percent of the loss.

Kathleen Pender, San Francisco Chronicle

Nice work if you can get it. The Obama administration wants to make the loans through the government directly and use the money now paid to banks to increase student aid grants.

At present six Dem Senators are balking at the shift, Thomas R. Carper (DE), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Mark Warner (VA) and Jim Webb (VA). Most of them are swimming in campaign funds from the institutions that make the loans. But Chris Kromm at Facing South is puzzled by Lincoln's participation in the blockage.

The more puzzling case is Sen. Lincoln of Arkansas. Her position on the Senate Finance Committee has made her a magnet for banking and finance campaign dollars ($246,700 for the 2010 cycle). But a search of her campaign contributions show no special ties to the student lending industry.

Maybe she's just being a rotten legislator.

Lincoln is likely to be history in November; her approval is way underwater among her Arkansas constituents. But progressives are taking the opportunity to demonstrate that there are consequences for Democrats who block the party agenda in office. Netroots activists including MoveOn have contributed well over $1 million to Democratic primary challenger Bill Halter. Unions and conservation organizations are also on the project of replacing Lincoln. You can join the effort here. I'm sure the guy isn't perfect, but lawmakers like Lincoln need to learn that the people aren't entirely passive.

UPDATE: Latest word is that the Senate Democratic leadership may attach the student loan clawback legislation to the health care bill in reconciliation. Well maybe. Nobody ever went broke betting the Senate can't get something done ... but just maybe someone up there is taking student needs seriously.

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