68 members of Congress — some of the most powerful people in the country — are still burdened by tens of thousands in student debt, according to a new report by Roll Call.
Roll Call recently combed through the financial disclosures of all 535 members of Congress and discovered that 24 Republicans and 44 Democrats owe a combined $2.5 million in student debt. One third of that $2.5 million is owed by freshman members of Congress, though those 68 members owing money from student loans comes out to roughly 13 percent of Congress — both the House and Senate.
Out of those 68 members, eight members owe more than $100,000 in student debt, and every member of the legislative branch with student debt owed at least $10,000. High-profile members, like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), owe at least $15,000. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), who took out loans to pay for his law school degree, owes more than $200,000, according to Roll Call.
Even though Sen. Murphy makes the annual Congressional salary of $174,000, and that he’s been in Congress since 2007, he told Roll Call that it was nonetheless “crappy” to have a debt load so large.
“You don’t have to have student loans to understand how crappy it is to have $200,000 in debt,” Murphy said.
The fact that so many members of Congress have so much in debt they’re unable to pay off doesn’t bode well for working-class Americans with much less economic stability and political power. Currently, more than 45 million Americans owe more than $1.56 trillion in student debt — most of which is from the U.S. Department of Education.
To put that in perspective, that’s $521 billion more than the total amount of credit card debt owed by all Americans, according to Student Loan Hero. And unlike credit card debt, student loan debt can’t easily be discharged through bankruptcy. This means the tens of millions of everyday Americans — and dozens of members of Congress, to boot — are shackled with debt that can’t be easily repaid.
Student debt servicer Navient is notorious for applying borrowers’ payments incorrectly. In fact, as Student Loan Planner pointed out, the debt servicer — which took on hundreds of billions of dollars in federal loan debt after its split with Sallie Mae — is being sued by multiple state attorneys general for this exact reason. Hypothetically, if a student borrower were to pay off $10,000 in debt and apply it to six different small loans for specified amounts in order to pay off that debt, Navient might apply that money a different way to make sure none of those loans are paid off, and that the borrower is still hit with monthly fees.
Currently, there’s no legislation in Congress to address the national student debt crisis. However, the Levy Institute of Economics at Bard College conducted a study in 2018 finding that, if Congress were to pass a law in which all $1.5 trillion in student debt was bought up and erased, it would stimulate the economy with roughly $1 trillion in economic activity — much of which could come in the form of former student borrowers suddenly having the money to buy homes and start families.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.