Forgive college debt? Not before budget is balanced

By Julie Doll | December 30, 2020

Is it selfish for Americans to oppose debt forgiveness for all former and current college students in the country?

That’s the motive many on the left ascribe to opponents of proposals to cancel the $1.4 trillion in student-loan debt owed by about 44 million Americans.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he’s interested in providing debt relief to those trying to pay off college loans. But his ideas have been more modest than the proposals of more liberal Democrats, who want to see all college debt canceled. They also demand free admission to universities, colleges and vocational-technical schools.

Since winning the election, Biden has been pressured to do something about student-loan debt that is fast and big — like on his first day in office and by executive order.

There already are laws and regulations to help people pay off student loans, although many of the programs were crippled by the Trump administration.

Earlier this year, for example, President Donald Trump vetoed a bipartisan congressional resolution to make it easier for former students to get relief on loans from schools that defrauded them.

Undoubtedly, it would be nice if we as a nation could erase the debts of those with student loans.

But, you know, it would be even nicer if we could erase the debts of those with medical bills they can’t afford.

Sadly, as a nation, we can’t afford to do either until we put our fiscal house in order.

I realize that view is terribly out of fashion, as today’s Democrats and Republicans seem happy to pile up more and more debt.

The federal government hasn’t balanced a budget in 20 years. From fiscal year 2016 to 2019, under Trump, spending grew more than twice as fast as revenue.

And this year, as it attempted to deal with the economic fallout of COVID-19, the federal government blew up the budget. The annual deficit zoomed from just under $1 trillion to $3.1 trillion.

Five years ago, the budget deficit was $439 billion.

Many on the right simply lie about debts and spending.

Many on the left believe supersized spending is good. They argue that governments that control their monetary policy and currency can afford huge debt if the money is used to grow the economy. Loan forgiveness and free college for everyone are part of the plan.

It sounds dangerous to those of us raised to be wary of debt. And it seems risky as fiscal policy.

Such stodginess is viewed by many on the left as selfish. They say taxpayers who are relatively secure financially are unwilling to share the American dream with those less fortunate.

But it seems more selfish to run up debts that become the obligation of future generations.

As the nation and Kansas know, economic theories don’t always pan out as planned. For example, cutting taxes for the wealthy doesn’t result in faster economic growth. That’s a “tried and failed and tried again and failed again” policy.

Congress and the new administration should look for ways to relieve debt for those struggling financially. It should be part of a broader strategy to change the economic dynamics that have produced alarming income inequality throughout the nation — during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

In tackling those issues, policymakers also need to figure out how we as a nation will pay our bills.

Garden City native Julie Doll worked for newspapers in California, New York, Indiana and Kansas.