August 19, 2023
From Popular Resistance

Above Photo: Advocates protest donations to Rep. Jared Golden by No Labels in 2021. Jim Anderberg.

The Blue Dog Coalition, a group of corporate House Democrats led by Rep. Jared Golden, received the maximum donation from student lending giant Sallie Mae after the Second District congressman voted earlier this year against Pres. Joe Biden’s plan to cancel $430 billion in federal student debt.

The disclosure comes as student loan payments are set to resume after a three-year pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golden was one of two Democrats to vote in May with House Republicans for a resolution blocking the Biden administration’s plan for a one-time cancellation of up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers who qualified. The other was Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington state, who co-chairs the Blue Dog Coalition with Golden.

Biden vetoed the GOP’s resolution in June, not long before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately struck down the White House’s plan, which would have forgiven some or all federal student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans.

On June 14, just over two weeks after the vote, Sallie Mae’s corporate PAC gave the maximum-allowable contribution, $5,000, to the Blue Dog Coalition.

Career Education Colleges and Universities, a D.C.-based lobby group for-profit colleges, also gave the maximum contribution to the coalition prior to the vote.

“After voting to kill your student debt cancellation [Golden and Gluesenkamp Perez] were rewarded with a donation from Sallie Mae’s PAC to the Blue Dogs which they co-chair,” the Debt Collective, a debtors’ union opposing runaway student debt, tweeted on Aug. 11 after the political contributions were publicly disclosed.

“They also accept PAC money from scam for-profit colleges.”

Golden vehemently defended his vote in a statement to Beacon, accusing people who support student loan forgiveness of being “leftist elites” “demanding handouts.” However, he did not address the accusation of a quid pro quo.

“Sadly, this is what radical leftist elites are learning about ‘democracy’ these days — silence and destroy anyone who disagrees with your views or goals. I stand by my vote and my opposition to forking out $10,000 to people who freely chose to attend college,” Golden said. “They were privileged to have the opportunity, and many left college well-situated to make six figure salaries for life. The Twitterati can keep bemoaning their privileged status and demanding handouts all they want, but as far as I’m concerned if they want free money for college, they can join the Marines and serve the country like I, and so many others, have in the past and many more will in the future.”

He continued, “If they want a career and hard skills without college debt, they should join a union and enter an apprenticeship. But if they choose to attend college, they can pay back their loans just like working class people pay back home mortgages, car loans, and many other expenses that people choose to take out loans for.”

$1.8 trillion of collective student debt

The Student Loan Marketing Association, or Sallie Mae, is the largest education finance company in the U.S. In 2014, the firm spun off many of its operations into a separate publicly-traded company, Navient, which is the largest servicer of federal student loans, collecting on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.

There are currently 45 million people in the U.S. struggling with $1.8 trillion worth of student loan debt, according to the Debt Collective, and over a million borrowers default every year.

The temporary relief some borrowers have relied on during the pandemic will soon end as federal student loan interest is slated to resume on Sept. 1, with the first payments coming due starting in October.

Some analysts predict the resumption of payment could slow the output of the U.S. economy by as much as $70 billion a year, as low- and middle-income borrowers will be forced to make payments with income that they had been otherwise circulating back into the economy during the pandemic.

Many Democrats, including Biden, ran on fixing the country’s broken higher education system, where students, as a prerequisite to entering the job market, are forced to take on more and more debt as tuition soars because there’s less state funding. But Golden came out strongly against student debt relief last year soon after Biden announced plans to forgive $10,000 per student and $20,000 for Pell Grants recipients.

Golden called the plan “out of step with the needs and values of working-class Americans” at the time.

It’s unclear how Golden defines working class, however, as 92,000 of his Second District constituents would be eligible under Biden’s plan. As Beacon previously reported, about 33% of managerial and professional households in the country have student debt; 25% of families in sales or the service industry have loans; and 21% of those employed in manufacturing, repair and agricultural industries are in debt.

Blue Dogs swimming in corporate money

Founded in 1994 by frontline Democrats in vulnerable districts who often back corporate-friendly economic policies, the Blue Dog Coalition, which Golden took over as a co-chair earlier this year, appears to be in the midst of a rebrand amid dwindling membership. This includes presenting its leaders as working class, at least in appearance.

A glowing feature story published last week by the Washington Post focused on Golden (pictured with sleeves rolled up exposing his tattoos) and Gluesenkamp Perez (mentioning she is owner of an auto repair shop) and their attempt to revitalize the coalition by bucking party orthodoxies and working across the aisle to serve everyday people.

“Rep. Jared Golden has never really been into labels,” the Post declares. The reporter later took pains to make his centrism seem heroic, “Not fitting squarely into a box has often been a lonely endeavor for Golden.”

The Blue Dog Coalition’s Twitter account promoted the piece and less artfully drove home its everyman subtext. “Listen to these normal people. Read about them in the Washington Post.”

But like the centrist No Labels group co-chaired by Republican Sen. Susan Collins — which professes to represent the “exhausted majority” of voters fed up with gridlock and party labels who simply want bipartisan “practical solutions” — the Blue Dog Coalition is awash in corporate money from Wall Street and the health insurance, fossil fuel, tech, and defense industries.

That’s because while they ostensibly call for cooperation, which is hard to disagree with, media commentators have pointed out that these centrist lawmakers’ demand for bipartisanship is actually about reducing the chance for bold policies that threaten the status quo.

During the disclosure period beginning in January and ending in June, the same period Golden has been at the helm, the Blue Dog Coalition received maximum donations from the likes of Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Dominion Energy, Avangrid, the American Petroleum Institute, JP Morgan Chase, H&R Block, the Carlyle Group, the American Bankers Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Aflac, Pfizer, General Dynamics, Boeing, General Motors, Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of Realtors, among others.

In addition to their donation to the Blue Dog Coalition, Sallie Mae contributes regularly to politicians on both sides of the aisle. In the last six months, the student lending giant has mostly given to centrists like Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat turned independent, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Maine Sen. Angus King.