Last month Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) debuted a proposal that would wipe away the majority of student debt through a generous forgiveness program. It may have been controversial among pundits, but it was popular with the public. Now there’s another plan out there that offers help too — and Warren, along with fellow presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Eric Swallwell (D-Calif.) are all co-sponsoring it.
Let’s talk about bankruptcy. Americans owe a collective $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, an amount that’s increased from $90 billion over the past two decades. In 2018, more than two-thirds of college graduates graduated with student loans. The average amount borrowed (from all sources) by a 2018 graduate is just under $30,000. The burden is impacting people from early adulthood to those in retirement: Some senior citizens are using their Social Security checks to pay back student loan bills. If all these people were facing unsupportable housing, credit card debt, medical or auto loan bills they could turn to a bankruptcy court for help. But short of something called “undue hardship,” an extremely difficult standard to meet, it’s essentially impossible to receive court-ordered relief from college loans.
The legislation, which debuted last week, would seek to fix this. It’s bipartisan, attracting two Republican co-sponsors in the House, including Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who introduced a similar bill in the last session of Congress. It would, as sponsor House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) put it in a statement, “ensure student loan debt is treated like almost every other form of consumer debt.”
The issue goes back to the 1970s, when the banks and media outlets began pushing the narrative there was an explosion in new graduates declaring bankruptcy to unload their student loans. The Government Accountability Office (then the General Accounting Office) found that such acts were extremely rare. But little matter: In 1976, Congress passed legislation that banned students from receiving relief for their student debts for a period of five years. Over the next several decades, they would extend that period to seven years, and then in 1998 they shut the door almost entirely on relief for federally issued loans. In 2005, as part of controversial “bankruptcy reform” legislation, that stricture was extended to privately issued loans as well. One man who supported all of this: Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware. He championed the multiple changes that made it harder for people to declare bankruptcy and receive relief for their student debt.
Over that same period, student loan debt ballooned. That’s likely not a coincidence. Many things factored into the rise of debt financing of education, including the decreasing rates at which many…