Foxx Begins a Free-Swinging Debate on Student Loans


(Correction appended Jan. 30: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Colin Seeberger's title. He is strategic campaigns director for Young Invincibles, not president.)

Think of a hammock. A luxurious hammock. A luxurious, $1.4 trillion dollar student debt hammock.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-N.C.) chairwoman of the House’s education committee, compared the current higher education law to a “luxurious hammock in which students can repose, accessing subsidized student loans with few if any credit checks or examination of their ability to repay.”

hammock

The statement was immediately criticized after it appeared in an op-ed this week in the Washington Times that was co-authored with Ed Feulner, the founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation. The piece promoted Foxx's bill (HR 4508) to update the 2008 higher education law (Pub L 110-315.)

“A luxurious hammock of debt and default?” said Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America on Twitter.

“Shameful,” said Tweeted Colin Seeberger, strategic campaigns director of Young Invincibles, a non-profit advocating for those younger than 35.

Trinity Washington University’s official Twitter account invited Foxx to visit and “hear real stories of hard working real students who would destroy her silly metaphor.”

The House education committee’s ranking member, Rep. Bobby Scott, (D-Va.), responded with a statement saying he disagreed “with the belief that hardworking students and families who want to pursue college are undeserving of federal student aid.

(It wasn't the first time a high-profile Republican has compared a government program to a nap-inducing, gravity-defying piece of stretched fabric. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), giving the Republican response to the State of the Union in 2011, worried a growing government would "transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.")

Foxx and Feulner were making a decades-old argument that the more student aid the government gives, the faster college tuition rises. That hypothesis has been the subject of a dozen studies, but drawing a clear conclusion is difficult as many factors go into the cost of college.

In a year when Republicans hope to reauthorize federal farm and aviation programs, as well as higher education law – not to mention address immigration and get re-elected - Foxx's comments may not do much to lower the rhetorical temperature. But a spokesman for her said that was kind of the point.

“For people who have been for the status quo," he said in a statement to Bloomberg Government, "the truth is hard to hear.”

Hopefully, there will be some hammocks waiting for lawmakers when they are done working on the higher ed reauthorization. They may need them.