Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hasn't even been in the Senate six months, but she's already beginning to fit the description of a senator that I was given in the fifth grade. A senator is elected to represent his or her constituents. Warren's constituents include a vast number of college students and professors within Massachusetts and the Boston area, which is the U.S. city with the most colleges and universities. In theory, at least, senators look at the pressing issues happening in their communities, bring that perspective with them to Washington, and work with other senators to try to fix these problems. While it is often hard for me to remember this definition, as it seldom is reflected in the reality of the Senate, at the core this is the senator’s function: to represent. And already, Warren is representing (and has earned the support of) one of her state's most vital industries.
A bill Warren recently introduced is a response to the looming student-debt crisis. Total student debt recently exceeded $1 trillion in the United States. The increasing debt burden, paired with a poor job market, is making the constraints on this generation tighter than ever, as young people are unable to move forward or get ahead by focusing on the present or future when they are still paying off the past. The debt seen in households under the age of 35 is no longer tied to homes, but instead to education. Amidst a high unemployment rate, the assumption that a higher education gets you ahead despite the financial sacrifices is slowly decaying. Instead, alumni are delaying large purchases or major life steps. By the end of 2012, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated 39 million adults had student-loan debt. Tons of reports have come out in the past years recommending huge changes to student loans in order to redistribute resources and keep college within reach of students wanting to get there. Many have even outlined how to do it.
Warren’s bill seeks to prevent the doubling of interest rates for federally subsidized student loans, set to take place July 1. In the words of the bill itself, this will be done by “providing funds for such loans through the Federal Reserve System,” in order to guarantee that such loans are available at rates equivalent to those provided to banks.
While many suspect this bill will not pass, it is clear that its presence in Congress will open the floor to a larger debate and dialogue surrounding the student debt crisis. Of course, only time will tell how the bill plays out in the media and Capitol Hill. As PolicyMic pundit R. Taylor Barden pointed out, this move is risky. However, what liberal Democrats and leftists alike have complained about throughout Obama’s first term was his inability to take risks. He compromised too often with Republicans in order to appease as many people as possible. Clearly, this landed him in a vulnerable position, named a socialist by the right-wing media and a moderate by the left. What is amazing about Elizabeth Warren’s bill is that it appears to be stripped of the strategy or agenda hidden behind most bill floating around the Senate. It seems that this bill is simply a direct response to a major problem in the United States today. Sure, it may be “controversial.” Sure, it may be a “bad move” for her reputation in the Senate. But that is the point. It is not a move, like the strategy for moving pieces on a chessboard. It is a move toward action; it is a response to a pressing issue. It is the start of a solution.