Every so often, a surprise issue hits the political arena that unexpectedly changes the trajectory of elections.
In the early 1990s, the House Post Office scandal (yes, we’re so old we remember it) helped power a GOP takeover of Congress after 40 years of Democratic dominance. A series of scandals led to the Democrats retaking control in 2006. Responses to Obamacare and bailouts transformed the House in 2010. We explore the potential of similar occurrences this election season.
Does the student loan forgiveness order issued by President Joe Biden have the potential to alter the 2022 midterm elections nationally and locally?
Pignanelli: “I would get my student loans, get money, register and never really go. It was a system I thought would somehow pan out.” — Ray Romano
As an act of generosity and brevity, I will refrain from adding a long winded diatribe to the expanding pool of opinion on this matter. (I spent years cleaning toilets, cleaning buildings and working other manual labors to reduce the loan amounts ultimately obtained, and paid back, for law school. Thus, I do have a perspective.)
The student loan forgiveness will affect voters’ deliberations. The matter is easily understood as either a needed or unjust benefit, depending on one’s personal experiences. There are no nuances. Republicans are already running ads illustrating the unfairness to blue-collar Americans. This explains why Democrats in swing states are separating themselves from the president on this.
Early polling demonstrates that loan forgiveness is popular with younger Americans (who need incentives to vote) and unpopular with those over 50 (who love to vote).
The loan forgiveness will not be an issue identified in polling as a top priority for voters, but it will be on their minds as they finalize their decisions in the next several weeks.
In local swing districts, candidates with a younger population will include support in their messaging. Conversely, regions with an older population will prompt some candidates to openly criticize the program.
This dispute is relevant in a personal way to almost everyone, and thereby inflames emotions. It certainly brought back memories of a simpler, and grungier, time for me.
Webb: Biden’s massive loan cancellation program obviously cuts both ways. College debtors will love it. People who paid off their loans or didn’t go to college will resent it. Conservatives deride the program as forcing hard-working truck drivers and plumbers to pay the debt of unemployed snobs who got degrees in gender studies.
Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a short time ago said the president didn’t have authority to unilaterally cancel debt. Other clear-thinking Democrats have said the $300 billion program will exacerbate inflation and is unfair to future borrowers who won’t get their debt forgiven. You got your loan yesterday, you win. You get your loan tomorrow, you lose. Unfairness built right in.
My biggest concern is the cumulative effect of all the government subsidies, bailouts and handouts of the last few years. The New York Times reported: “Stimulus bills approved by Congress beginning in 2020 unleashed the largest flood of federal money into the United States economy in recorded history. Roughly $5 trillion went to households, mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, airlines, hospitals, local governments, schools and other institutions around the country. ...” That’s not counting the infrastructure legislation that added another $1.2 trillion. The loan forgiveness program will add at least $300 billion.
Much of this, of course, is above and beyond the regular, ongoing federal spending. And can you imagine how much worse it would be if Biden and the Democrats had passed ALL of the programs they proposed? There were trillions more in the Build Back Better and American Families Plan legislation.
Keep that in mind when you vote in November.
At least Republicans in the U.S. Senate were able to trim down some of these massive programs. But spending has still been so high it’s not even fathomable. Politicians talk about a trillion dollars like it’s nothing. Free money to be printed or borrowed with no consequence. But all the spending, so far, has produced a 40-year inflation peak, high interest rates, a housing sales collapse and a major stock market decline.
Does the student loan debate add to voter enthusiasm being generated by inflation, the Dobbs abortion decision and the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago?
Pignanelli: Inflation and gas prices were the significant energy behind the red wave. But fallout from the abortion decision is impacting several demographic groups, moving the needle in swing congressional districts. Clever messaging on the loan debate may again realign these volatile voters.
Left of center constituencies will be more comfortable casting a ballot for Democrats. But the matter will inflame the typical Trump voter. So once again the battleground is in suburbia.
Webb: This election holds much intrigue because plenty of issues exist to motivate both sides. But candidate quality will still be paramount.
This being the wild and wacky election of 2022, are there any other potential issues that could impact the elections?
Pignanelli: Revelations as to what was stored — or not — in the former president’s Florida home could be an October surprise.
Webb: Any number of things could inflame voters: Economy worsens; Russia attacks a NATO country; Trump is indicted; Biden issues executive order banning MAGA hats.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: email@example.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.