Barack Obama, Money, Politics, Student Loans

Obama Just Doesn’t Understand How to Help Public Interest Lawyers

If President Obama thinks education is so important, then why is he hell bent on financially crippling those who seek education? Seriously, why can’t he understand that making education affordable for everybody is not achieved simply by giving everybody the opportunity to take out loans that they cannot pay back?

I’ve mentioned before that Obama himself did not pay off his student loans until he became a best selling author. Does he expect everybody to write a great American novel? Does he think loans are free? Does ensuring that members of the “educated elite” are financially hobbled for the rest of their lives part of some sick political philosophy experiment?

I want answers, goddamnit! I want somebody to explain to me why this president — one who has enjoyed overwhelming support from the young and college-educated — has a blind spot when it comes to the cost of student loans.

Do I have to become a rabid, Tea Party Republican to get this Democrat to pay attention to me? Just look at what he’s about to do to graduate students. With one hand he’s trying to funnel more money to lawyers who help low-income clients, but with the other he’s going to make it even harder for lawyers to pay off their loans without working for people who have the ability to pay high fees.

He doesn’t want people who have a commitment to public service, he wants saints willing to martyr their futures on a pyre stoked by Sallie Mae….

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, Obama is upping his commitment to the Legal Services Corporation. From the WSJ Law Blog:

To many House Republicans, it looked like a legitimate place to cut: the Legal Services Corporation. The organization funds local agencies that provide legal services for low-income individuals.

But President Barack Obama’s budget proposal unveiled on Monday failed to heed the Republicans’ calls. Rather, his budget proposal calls for an increase of $30 million for the next fiscal year.

That’s cute. The federal government can find $30 million between the couch cushions in the Oval Office, but whatever. It’s a nice little progressive talking point to help poor people have access to legal services, and if Republicans are stupid they’ll make a huge deal about this $30 million non-issue that Obama will be all to happy to bargain away in the name of “compromise.”

The “trial lawyers’ lobby” — the one that Republicans think is in the axis of evil — doesn’t care about the Legal Services Corporation. The trial lawyers care about tort reform. Republicans missed their chance to get meaningful tort reform during the health care debate, and I have every confidence that Republicans will find a way to screw it up again in their zeal to make it unconstitutional for insurance companies to lose.

Do you want to know what’s really going to screw poor people who need legal services? Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew revealed the administration’s latest effort to increase the scarcity of lawyers willing to work for little money, in an interview with CNN. The Huffington Post reports:

But at least one component of his FY 2012 budget, which will be released tomorrow, will likely pile more debt upon students who decide to pursue graduate school, potentially making the dream of higher education even more unattainable for many Americans. The move, say administration officials, is needed to ensure that a popular financial aid award stays available at current levels.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew said that interest on graduate school loans will begin building up while students are still in school. Currently, interest does not begin compiling until after students graduate.

Funny, when Obama talked about our “Sputnik moment” during the State of the Union, I didn’t know he meant he was going to start beating graduate students about the face and neck with Russian technology.

Forget about the lawyers for a second. Think about the years doctors will spend accruing interest while they study. Think about a mathematics Ph.D candidate who might start grad school when he’s 22 and have nearly a decade of interest waiting for him when he graduates into professorial market. This plan will make it harder for thousands of the very people Obama says we need more of to achieve financial security before they’re eligible for (soon to be non-existent) Social Security.

And really, lawyers will be better able to pay back their loans and the interest on the loans then other “knowledge elites.” You know why? Because when a poor, distressed client shows up in desperate need of legal representation, the lawyer will say “Get the HELL OUT OF MY OFFICE, you freaking HOBO. I’ve been paying off interest on my loans since I was 22 years old. I don’t FART on somebody for less than $50 an hour. You’ll be RECEIVING A BILL for this one-minute conversation!”

It’s really not that complicated: if you want to make legal services available to low-income clients, you have to make legal education less expensive. How is it that I can understand this more fundamentally than the President of the United States? Maybe home-owners can walk away from their underwater mortgages, but law graduates — even deadbeats like me — try to pay off their loans. We HAVE TO. The system leaves us no choice because the debts are not dischargeable even through bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship (as recently noted by Glenn Reynolds).

You can talk all you want about loan forgiveness or indentured servitude to the government for a decade in an attempt to make Sallie Mae take her foot off your neck. But the easiest, most simple solution is to make education cost less.

Giving everybody access to financially ruinous loans is not the same as making education affordable! I shouldn’t have to switch my party affiliation to get my President to acknowledge that point.

Obama Bucks Calls for Legal Services Cuts, Boosts Budget [WSJ Law Blog]
Graduate Students May Face Higher Debt Under Obama’s Budget Plan [Huffington Post]
Glenn Reynolds: Higher education’s bubble is about to burst [Washington Examiner]

Earlier: Student Loan Bailout. Just Do It.

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