George F. Will: The menace of bipartisanship

By GEORGE F. WILL Published: May 17, 2012
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Bipartisanship, the supposed scarcity of which so distresses the high-minded, actually is disastrously prevalent. Since 2001, it has produced No Child Left Behind, a counterproductive federal intrusion in primary and secondary education; the McCain-Feingold speech rationing law; an unfunded prescription drug entitlement; troublemaking by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; government-directed capitalism from the Export-Import Bank; crony capitalism from energy subsidies; unseemly agriculture and transportation bills; continuous bailouts of an unreformed Postal Service; housing subsidies; subsidies for state and local governments; and many other bipartisan deeds, including most appropriations bills.

Now, with Europe's turmoil dramatizing the decadence of entitlement cultures, and with American governments — federal, state and local — buckling beneath unsustainable entitlements, Congress is absent-mindedly creating a new entitlement for the already privileged. Concerning the “problem” of certain federal student loans, the two parties pretend to be at daggers drawn, skirmishing about how to “pay for” the “solution.” But a bipartisan consensus is congealing: Certain student borrowers — and eventually all student borrowers, because, well, why not? — should be entitled to loans at a subsidized 3.4 percent interest rate forever.

In 2006, Democrats, trying to capture control of Congress by pandering to students and their parents, proposed cutting in half the statutory 6.8 percent rate on some federal student loans. Holding Congress in 2007, and with no discernible resistance from the compassionately conservative Bush administration, Democrats disguised the full-decade cost of this — $60 billion — by pretending the subsidy, which now costs $6 billion a year, would expire in five years.

The five years are up July 1 and of course the 3.4 percent rate will be extended. Barack Obama supports this. So does Mitt Romney, while campaigning against a “government-centered society.” What would we do without bipartisanship?

The low 6.8 percent rate — private loans for students cost about 12 percent — was itself the result of a federal subsidy. And students have no collateral that can be repossessed in case they default, which 23 percent of those receiving the loans in question do. The maximum loan for third- and fourth-year students is $5,500 a year. The payment difference between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent is less than $10 a month, so the “problem” involves less than 30 cents a day.



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