GOP candidates are making a point of running against "bailouts" this year. Yet even as they rail about rescuing big banks, they're working on a plan that would slip those same banks an estimated $90 billion in taxpayer money...and that's just in the first ten years.
"Fiscal conservatism," anyone?
It was always hypocritical to slam a bailout that they and their party initiated. But it turns out they were just warming up. Now they're trying to pull a fast one on the American public, tapping Tea Party rage about big government spending even as they prepare to slip the big bankers some big bucks. They're planning to siphon off $90 billion meant for America's college students and their families and give it to Wall Street.
Any Tea Partier who votes for these guys is being played for a sucker.
The Republican repeal plan wouldn't just put tens of billions of public dollars in bank coffers. It would also raise the maximum amount a graduate is forced to pay each year from 10 percent to 15 percent of income. And it would extend the length of time before their debt is forgiven from 20 to 25 years.
Your GOP: Sending billions in taxpayer money to rich bankers, and squeezing young people starting out in life. Call it the New Populism.
Small government? Less spending? The Republican Party's backdoor bailout of wealthy bankers is bigger than the auto-industry bailout. It's bigger than the home-loan program. It's bigger than the lending program for small businesses. And unlike those programs, it serves no social purpose at all:
This week, two Republican senatorial candidates were the latest to push this secret subsidy for Wall Street. Washington's Dino Rossi and Mark Kirk in Illinois were obviously working from the same playbook, since they made almost identical points while declaring their opposition to this year's student-loan reform. "You know, part of the takeover of government has been part of the student loans," said Rossi. "I don't think that we should adopt legislation that the Congress has moved forward to have a complete government takeover of all student loans," said Kirk.
Kirk and Rossi are talking about this year's student-loan reform. That program eliminated a cushy deal that gave private banks a percentage of government-loan funds for "administering" loans (they weren't actually lending the money). They performed their administrative duties both inefficiently and unethically. What's more, the banks took a portion of their vig and spent it on lobbyists in order to keep the pot sweetened for themselves. It didn't work -- but if the GOP has its way, it'll work next year.
You're not seeing a "populist" uprising on the right. You're seeing lobbyist and billionaire money at work, channeling genuine frustration and anger into an electoral plan designed to help bankers get even richer.
The "government takeover" argument is ridiculous, of course. In this case they're talking about a government takeover... of government. This is the public's money, and it's intended to be lent to students and their families so that the dream of an ever-more-expensive college education is available to more families. Taxpayers support this program so much that neither Kirk nor Rossi could afford to criticize it. But not too many of those taxpayers would support taking billions of their dollars and funneling it to Wall Street, as the GOP would do.
When private bankers managed the student-loan process, it was filled with rampant corruption that included kickbacks to school administrators. Millions of dollars meant for students were also stuffed in the pockets of lobbyists and politicians. (Details here.) And as for that "privatization" mantra we keep hearing from the GOP, consider this: The government created and funded Sallie Mae to help students get these government loans, and then privatized it. The result was a taxpayer-created and financed company that bought itself three private jets, paid bloated executive salaries, and threw government money at Washington pols (including a quarter of a million dollars for George W. Bush's inauguration).
Because of our current hard times -- hard times brought about by the very same bankers who would get billions under the GOP plan -- our student-loan program is even more important than ever. Unemployment and underemployment for college graduates is soaring. The average college graduate's debt in 2009 was $24,000, up six percent from the year before, and that's before the full impact of the economic downturn. Diverting billions in federal student loan money to Wall Street under these circumstances is nothing short of obscene.
But the GOP has made it clear that they're in the bankers' back pockets. Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republican Senate campaign committee, indicated they would immediately move to repeal the financial-reform bill if they gained power. That would give their banker friends free reign to exploit consumers and take even greater risks with the economy. This $90 billion giveaway of government money -- our money -- is just part of a larger pattern.
While neither Kirk nor Rossi were originally Tea Party candidates, they've both made their peace with the movement. Unnamed "Tea Party activists" from the State of Washington issued a letter of support for Rossi, while the formerly centrist Mark Kirk has flip-flopped on multiple issues in the last few months in order to pass Tea Party muster. Both candidates are part of a larger GOP plan to use anti-spending, anti-bank rhetoric in order to spend billions on subsidizing banks.
Billions for bankers, benefit cuts for students. A "privatization" scheme that lets a few people get rich off government programs, promoted in the name of "less spending" and "less taxes." That's the system that these Republicans want to bring back and even expand. They want to use student loan money as a piggy bank for rich piggies, tapping taxpayer dollars to to enrich their pals.
So my question for the Tea Party rank and file is this: Are you going to let the big banks and their politician cronies play you like this? Are you going to be a sucker? They've got $90 billion that says you will.
About the table: The Department of Education Arne Duncan estimates the bank subsidy was costing approximately $9 billion per year, including the interest banks were able to collect . Given the rapid and ongoing increases in college tuitions, it's not unreasonable to think that the total amount could be wind up being much more than either figure. I used the data compiled by the New York Times for the other figures. In every case, I used the highest possible figures for the final cost of each program, to make my estimates as conservative as possible. (I stayed away from TARP, even though we're told it's making a profit, because the total cost is still unknown.)
The result was clear: This GOP's planned Wall Street giveaway was the biggest and costliest of all the programs listed.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Website: Eskow and Associates