Back in September, the White House launched an online petition platform that they said would "give all Americans a way to create and sign petitions on a range of issues affecting our nation."
The platform, called We The People, is open to anyone 13 or older. Once you create a petition and submit it to the site, it's your job to build momentum for your idea using social media and old-fashioned word of mouth. If a petition reaches 150 signatures in 30 days, it because logged and searchable within the database. If the petition reaches 25,000 signatures, it gets an official response from the White House.
The original threshold for a response was 5,000 signatures in 30 days, but it appears that the White House wasn't going to be able to respond to all of the petitions that got that many signatures, so the limit was raised.
The first petition to merit a response from the White House has just gotten its response. The petition for the Obama administration to "Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy and Usher in a New Era of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Prosperity" currently has over 32K signatures on the We The People site.
Forgiving student loan debt would provide an immediate jolt to the economy by putting hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of extra dollars into the hands of people who WILL spend it - not just once, but each and every month thereafter - freeing them up to invest, buy homes, start businesses and families.
That's what the petition's creator, Robert A of Staten Island says about his proposal.
The White House's special assistant to the President for Education Policy has responded, saying -
We agree that reducing the burden of student loans is an effective way to stimulate the economy and save taxpayer dollars. That's why we're excited to announce a new policy that speaks to the concerns expressed in this petition.
The response goes on to explain the situation of student debt in the country and then links to the official press release concerning Obama's new plan to lower student debt payments. Here's the crux of the plan -
The Administration is moving forward with a new “Pay As You Earn” proposal that will reduce monthly payments for more than one and a half million current college students and borrowers. Starting in 2014, borrowers will be able to reduce their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their discretionary income. But President Obama realizes that many students need relief sooner than that. The new “Pay As You Earn” proposal will allow about 1.6 million students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent starting next year, and the plan will forgive the balance of their debt after 20 years of payments. Additionally, starting this January an estimated 6 million students and recent college graduates will be able to consolidate their loans and reduce their interest rates.
Current income-based plans allow students to cap their payments to 15% of discretionary income, with remaining debt forgiven after 25 years. The new plan expedites a plan enacted by Congress set to go into effect in 2014.
Obama also unveiled the plan while speaking at the University of Colorado in Denver this afternoon.
Whether you believe that this is a good use of the web and social media or you feel skeptical about the power of individuals to enact change in this way, you have to admit that it's a pretty interesting coordination of online presence and domestic politics. Whether you believe in the plan or not, it is interesting that the President unveiled a plan, it seems, based on the most-signed online petition on We The People.