Dear Ron Johnson: Wisconsin’s 800,000-plus Student Loan Borrowers Are Not Lazy

After Repeatedly Voting Against Allowing Borrowers to Refinance Loans Like a Mortgage, Millionaire Claims ‘No Such Thing As a Free Lunch’

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) should immediately apologize to the state’s more than 800,000 hardworking student loan borrowers for “ignorant comments, bordering on insulting” made to media yesterday, according to One Wisconsin Now. Johnson’s comments, reported by Wisconsin Public Radio, include Johnson claiming “There’s no such thing as a free lunch…” regarding efforts to curb the crippling $18 billion in federal student loan debt with which borrowers in Wisconsin are currently burdened.

“Student loan borrowers are hardworking and took on the personal responsibility for paying for their education,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “They are not asking for a handout, they just want to be treated fairly, like being able to refinance their loans, just like you can a mortgage. Each and every time this legislation has come before him, Ron Johnson has voted ‘no.’”

Wisconsin has at least 812,000 federal student loan borrowers and countless others with private debt. Johnson has voted several times against legislation that would allow hard-working borrowers who took on the personal responsibility for paying for their higher education the opportunity to refinance their federal loans as lower rates, something currently prohibited by law. According to the White House, 515,000 federal student loan borrowers in Wisconsin would immediately be able to reduce their interest rates.

As student loan debt tops one trillion dollars nationally, surpassing credit card debt, federal officials are pointing to the debt crisis as a drag on economic recovery efforts. Original research from One Wisconsin Institute confirms the detrimental economic impact of student loan debt, finding it reduces new car purchasing in Wisconsin by over $200 million annually and that middle class households with student loan debt are overwhelmingly more likely to rent than own a home. [One Wisconsin Institute, 9/26/2012]

Johnson graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1977, when the annual tuition was $663 a year. The most recent annual tuition for a state resident at Johnson’s alma mater is now $12,060 — 1,700 percent higher than when he graduated. During Johnson’s four years in college, the minimum wage was increased three separate times and was 50 percent higher than when he began college [One Wisconsin Now Release, 6/4/2014]

Johnson’s record on student loan debt is the worst in all of Congress. Johnson not only voted against allowing refinancing of student loans, he also said his “solution” for the crisis is more for-profit colleges, like the ones under investigation for preying on veterans and the poor; called for the end of federal loans; falsely claimed middle class families pay for student grants for rich people; and said borrowers were irresponsible because “Loans are pretty easy to get and college is a lot of fun.

“The same Ron Johnson who paid for his Senate campaign by having his company cut him a $10 million check is telling student loan borrowers they are lazy,” said Ross. “Ron Johnson has the worst record on student loan debt in Congress, but his condescending words to Wisconsin’s student loan borrowers add insult to the injuries from the disastrous policies he supports.”

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One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.