From both sides of the political isle, members of Congress know firsthand the burden of growing student loan debt faced by millions of college graduates and their parents.
The Center for Responsive Politics found that members of Congress owe somewhere between $1.8 million and $4.3 million in student loans.
Overall, 46 members of Congress — 22 Democrats and 24 Republicans — listed student loan debt in 2011.
The lawmaker with the heftiest debt is freshman Rep. Raul Ruiz, who owes between $115,000 and $300,000 after earning a medical degree and two graduate diplomas from Harvard.
Much of the borrowing seems to have been for lawmakers’ own educations.
Ruiz is a California Democrat and adoptive son of migrant farmworkers. He graduated magna cum laude from UCLA and collecting a medical degree and two other graduate diplomas from Harvard.
Of the five members of Congress who reported owing at least $100,000 on student loans in 2011, four of them took out the loans for themselves or a spouse, writes Russ Choma on the OpenSecrets Blog. But at least 13 members have loans that are listed as either Parent Plus loans, or loans that were co-signed for children or, in one case, a niece. In some cases, it’s not clear who the loans were for, Choma said.
A number of representatives on key education subcommittees also owe student loan debt. Reps. Joe Heck, R-Nev.; Luke Messer, R-Ind.; Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.; and Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., are all on the House Education and Workforce Committee’s sub-panel on higher education, and owe a combined $95,000 to $250,000 to Sallie Mae and other creditors.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — already a Republican Party front runner for the 2016 nomination — owed between $100,000 and $250,000 in student loan debt. The 41-year-old senator graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1993 and received his law degree from the University of Miami in 1996.
But in December Rubio announced that he paid off his student loan debt using proceeds from sales of his autobiography.
Most Americans don’t have that luxury.
By most accounts, student loan debt tops a trillion dollars and has surpassed overall credit card balances among U.S. consumers.
Later this year, Congress will decide whether to again extend the low 3.4 percent rate on federally subsidized student loans that would avoid a return to its standard rate of 6.8 percent.
The Republican-led House of Representatives and the Senate with a Democratic majority showed uncharacteristic harmony by approving the rate extension as part of a big job-creating transportation bill last June.