Student loan defaults increased somewhat last year, but the department says the primary drivers of the unprecedented “re-estimate”—budget-wonk jargon for the update of expected loan costs—were Obama’s policy changes, the recent ones as well as the upcoming ones. And because of a quirk in the budget process for credit programs, the department can add the $21.8 billion to the deficit automatically, without seeking appropriations or even approval from Congress.
That’s a big quasi-bailout, increasing the deficit nearly 5 percent. The White House budget office was unaware of any larger re-estimates since the current scoring rules for credit programs went into effect in 1992. As a January Politico Magazine feature on the government’s unusual credit portfolio reported, the Federal Housing Administration has stuck more than $75 billion worth of similar re-estimates onto Uncle Sam’s tab over the last two decades, most of them after the recent housing bust led to a cascade of FHA-backed mortgage defaults. But it’s never had a one-year shortfall quite as drastic as this.