Another reform push, another deceptive response

ANOTHER REFORM PUSH, ANOTHER DECEPTIVE RESPONSE…. We’ve talked a few times about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which really should be an easy call. The student-loan industry is getting government subsidies to provide a service the government can perform for less. The Obama administration has asked Congress to remove the middleman, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees.

The House already approved the plan, and the Senate may follow suit through reconciliation. So, Republicans — who prefer the more expensive, less efficient status quo because bank lobbyists tell them to — are doing what they always do. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former Secretary of Education, had an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post complaining of the Obama administration’s attempted “Washington takeover … of the student loan system.”

…Starting in July, all 19 million students who want government-backed loans will line up at offices designated by the U.S. Education Department. Gone will be the days when students and their colleges picked the lender that best fit their needs; instead, a federal bureaucrat will make that choice for every student in America based on still-unclear guidelines. […]

[T]he government should disclose that getting your student loan will become about as enjoyable as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Kevin Carey explained that Alexander’s warning “sounds pretty terrible,” but is easily dismissed — the conservative Tennessee senator “is making things up.”

In reality, getting a student loan through the Federal Direct Loan Program isn’t going be any different than it is for the millions of students who are already getting loans through the Federal Direct Loan Program, which involves filling out the same forms you use to get loans under the “give-banks-billions-of-free-taxpayer-dollars” program that Alexander is defending. […]

Op-eds like this are best understood not as actual attempts to influence legislation but rather as strategic contributions to a larger narrative alleging that President Obama is engaged in grand conspiracy to drag unsuspecting Americans down the road to serfdom. It’s not true, but standards of truth are very lax when U.S. Senators write for the op-ed page of the Washington Post.

It’s eerily similar to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) op-ed in the Washington Post last week on health care reform — I know why conservative Republican senators are lying; I don’t know why the paper’s editors publish deceptive claims and fairly obvious errors.

For what it’s worth, the WaPo also recently published an accurate piece on the same legislation from current Education Secretary Arne Duncan. As far as the paper’s editors are concerned, the “balance” may make all of this acceptable — readers got to read “one side” on one week, “another side” the next week. It’s a celebration of diversity of perspectives.

Except, again, it’s not. The paper published one piece with blatant falsehoods, and another piece with the truth. Both were presented as opinion pieces, leaving the reader to ponder which of the two is accurate.

It’s not the job of a newspaper’s editorial section to publish lies and facts separately, leaving the public to figure it out.