Meet the billionaire who canceled student loan forgiveness
The billionaire behind the group that brought down Biden's student debt relief program is Bernie Marcus, former Home Depot CEO, at right. | Protest photo: AP / Marcus photo: Home Depot

On Friday, a federal judge in Texas struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, declaring it illegal. Judge Mark Pittman, appointed by former President Donald Trump, proclaimed the program “an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power [that] must be vacated.”

As a recent college graduate with over $20,000 in student loan debt, you can imagine my frustration. I filed the loan forgiveness application the moment it came out. Still, I had doubts about the forgiveness materializing within six weeks, as stated on the Student Aid website.

The lawsuit challenging the program was filed by the Jobs Creators Network Foundation (JCN), a conservative advocacy group founded by billionaire Bernard “Bernie” Marcus. The group boasts as active members wealthy businesspeople like Brad Anderson, former CEO of Best Buy, and Heidi Ganahl, the wealthy GOP candidate that lost her gubernatorial bid in Colorado this week. Marcus, 93, is a co-founder of Home Depot and retired CEO, but most of his wealth is still in Home Depot stock.

Marcus and his wife were top donors to Donald Trump in past elections. They also donated $14.9 million to Republicans in the 2022 midterms, which includes a $1.75 million donation to Herschel Walker’s controversial Senate campaign in Georgia. Original reports attributed the Walker donation to Home Depot, spurring the company to clarify in a tweet that the almost $2 million political contribution was from their former CEO and not the company itself.

It is not the first time Home Depot has had to make public statements regarding Marcus’s donations to GOP campaigns. In 2019, Home Depot also sought to distance itself from Marcus after calls to boycott the company began circulating on social media in response to his public support for the Trump campaign.

Elaine Parker, president of the Job Creators Network Foundation which led the lawsuit against student debt relief. | Fox

While Home Depot claims the company does not support any presidential candidates, this does not absolve it from the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent supporting the campaigns of the 147 members of the “Sedition Caucus,” the representatives who refused to certify the 2020 election on baseless claims of the “Big Lie.” Home Depot pledged to end political contributions to these representatives only to renege on their pledge a year later and become the third biggest corporate donor to the Sedition Caucus.

Marcus’s attack on the much-needed student loan forgiveness program is one of his many historical initiatives to harm the working class. He is one of the several business tycoons who has consistently lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that would expand protections for workers unionizing their workplaces. Marcus also used his Jobs Creators Network to launch bus tours in 2017 and 2018 to promote the Trump administration’s infamous tax cuts for the rich.

Elaine Parker, president of Job Creators Network Foundation, argues that stealing debt relief from the 26 million Americans who already applied for the program “protects the rule of law which requires all Americans to have their voices heard by the federal government.”

Considering the anti-democratic history of the advocacy group, it’s clear that the “voices” she’s referring to are not the millions of people that organized and voted for student loan forgiveness. Instead, her concern lies with the wealthy business owners who make up her group’s membership and pay her $213,000 yearly salary.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Myra Brown, claims to be harmed by the debt relief program because she’s not eligible for it since private companies funded her student loans. Evidently, the $48,000 PPP loan forgiveness she received for her sign-making business in April of this year was not enough (despite it being five times the $10,000 debt forgiveness amount I hoped to receive under Biden’s program).

Judge Pittman, a federal judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, isn’t much of a champion for democracy either. Pittman is vice president and a founding member of the Tarrant County Federalist Society—the local chapter of the influential conservative legal group primarily responsible for empowering the Supreme Court’s far-right rampage.

The Federalist Society is the largest donor to the consulting firm that assisted the Job Creators Network in their lawsuit that Judge Pittman then ruled in favor of. I assume this is just a coincidence!

It did not take long after the midterms for far-right elements of the American ruling class to remind us of their commitment to decimate any democratic gains for working-class people. The “Red Wave” may have been halted in this election, but the extremely well-funded far-right shows no signs of slowing its death march. On the contrary, its billionaire funders are digging deep to protect their profits against the democratic movements that threaten them.

When I graduated in May 2020, I began my career in a completely dead job market due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My peers with job offers quickly saw them rescinded due to the economic devastation, and many opted to move home with their families. Moving home was not an option for me as a first-generation college student from a tiny east Texas town with no work opportunities even in standard economic times. My family’s house sold around that time, so there was no home for me to move to and wait on the job market to recover.

A tweet from the Debt Collective.

After college, I relocated to Austin and struggled to make ends meet for the next two years as a freelance videographer and digital consultant. At times, my rent sucked up 50% of my monthly income. Luckily, student loan payments paused. If I’d had to make payments on them, I would not have been able to afford a place to live. I went to college and got two degrees because I was told that if I went to school and paid for a degree, I would always have a decent-paying job.

It’s been two years since the pandemic, and while I now work in non-profit communications, I do not use either of my degrees. I am lucky that I had hard skills to fall back on to keep me employed, but I still feel I could only make student loan payments with profound sacrifices to my quality of life. I’ve just arrived at a point where I can begin saving money.

If I have to start making $300 monthly student loan payments, I will be back to living paycheck to paycheck. Unfortunately, this is still a better situation than many students who have even more debt and do not have a way to make money other than heavily exploitative gig work like Uber or DoorDash.

An economic system that burdens the youngest and most educated sections of its workforce with $1.6 trillion in debt before they even get a chance to begin their careers is a system that is bound to be combated by those it exploits. For the last two years, young people of all backgrounds have increasingly been in the streets and at the ballot box, fighting for their right to have a decent life.

People deserve the opportunity to obtain an education without being trapped in endless debt cycles by a few large corporations. These corporations line the pockets of executives and shareholders at the expense of regular Americans who went to school so that they could contribute to our economy and provide for themselves and their families.

College costs have increased 169% since 1980, and wages for young workers don’t even come close to keeping pace. Corporate greed has no place in higher education in any nation that seeks to provide an adequate quality of life for its people.

While I am disappointed about what this ruling means for my student loan payments that will resume in January, I do not feel defeated. Pressure on the Biden administration from people’s movements like the Debt Collective makes the opportunity for student loan forgiveness increasingly possible.

I expect young people like myself to keep fighting. We proved our collective power in the midterm elections as a force to be reckoned with, and we will continue to be a driving force for democracy at the ballot box and beyond.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


CONTRIBUTOR

Dylan James
Dylan James

Dylan James is a young activist writing from Texas. Follow him on Twitter: @dylxjames.

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