IN POLITICS as in life, small is easier than big. Small issues, small ideas, and small fights are easier to understand, explain, and exploit. Even when the underlying topic is important, like education, policymakers gravitate toward the margins. So when an issue finally gains national attention, we get what we’ve had for the past two weeks: lots of talk about capping rates on some student loans, but no real interest in the bigger and more important questions — higher education costs, ballooning education debts, and the implications of America’s dismal performance in math and science relative to our economic peers around the world.
Once President Obama decided to make a national case over cutting student loan rates, the die was pretty much cast. With a federal loan subsidy provision expiring June 30, rates on certain new loans are scheduled to rise from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Mitt Romney agreed that the lower rate should be maintained; the House and Senate passed legislation; and pending an agreement on the best way to cover the $6 billion in annual costs, a bill will be signed to much White House fanfare this month.