Why Downplaying the Difference Between Obama and Romney is Not Helpful
You don't have to be a close watcher of politics to know that Barack Obama has been far friendlier to Wall Street than Wall Street deserves. A casual read of Matt Taibbi will tell you all you need to know on that front.
But to say that because of that, there's no difference between Romney and Obama on matters of Wall Street and austerity is an exercise in lazy equivalence. Mitt Romney just went out and proved that with his latest stance on student loans:
Mitt Romney has just released his plan for educating America’s young people, and it’s wholly consistent with his overall philosophy: Allow money to dominate politics, and everything will work out great. Except that, when it comes to policies on college education, we tried that approach under George W. Bush, and it was a disaster for students and taxpayers.
Specifically, Romney attacks — and pledges to undo — two critical reforms implemented by the Obama Administration: (1) reforming student loans and (2) holding for-profit colleges accountable for waste, fraud, and abuse.
In the recent bad old days, the big firms dominatingthe student loan business — Sallie Mae, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, etc. — got paid as if they were lenders, when in fact they were merely loan servicers; it was us taxpayers who actually took the risk of students defaulting on loans. These banks then used our money to hire lobbyists to protect their billions in unwarranted profits. The Obama Administration stood up to them, and Congress, with nowhere left to cut spending, finally ended this absurd giveaway. There’s absolutely no logical reason to restore this massive waste of taxpayer money. You would only do it if a central principle of your presidency was to hand out gifts to special interests who helped you get elected. Unfortunately it looks like Romney might want to be just that kind of President. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo employees are ranked numbers 3, 6, and 10 among the top 2012 Romney donors.
Then there’s the issue of the for-profit college sector, whose multiple bad actors have been caught in the act of defrauding our veterans and low-income students with deceptive recruiting practices, and defrauding government with phony reporting. For-profit colleges have grown rapidly and now account for about 12 percent of students, but their financial footprint is even bigger: With high prices, high dropout rates, and poor job placement, they account for 25 percent of federal financial aid — over $30 billion a year — and 45 percent of student loan defaults.
Romney takes direct aim at the Obama Administration’s “gainful employment” rule — an effort to channel federal student aid to college programs that actually help students learn and get jobs, rather than to programs that leave students deep in debt and ruin their lives. Many of the biggest for-profit schools get 90 percent or more of their revenue from taxpayer funds. They devoted a big chunk of that money to a lobbying and public relations campaign that succeeded in watering down — but not eliminating — the new Obama rule. But that’s not good enough for Mitt Romney.
Politics is almost never about perfect choices. But more importantly, the passions that run hot in politics would be as pointless and inane as the heated arguments on sports or celebrity blogs but for the fact that real people's lives are at stake and important decisions hang in balance.
A vote against President Obama in a swing state is functionally a vote to give our tax dollars back to rapacious student loan companies by eliminating these needed reforms. It's a vote to take away health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. And it's a vote to give federal funding to Harold Hill scam "colleges." It may feel good to cast a pox on both houses for their similarities. In the end, though, that decision affects all the many places where there are big differences, too.