Democratic Senators Split On Wiping Out Student Loan Debt
It is unknown whether President-elect Joe Biden sees broad and unilateral student loan debt elimination as legally feasible, politically smart, or good policy. (Photo: Salwan Georges / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic senators disagree on whether President-elect Joe Biden should act unilaterally to clean up student debts when he takes office. This may reflect how far the government's advances are from fully embracing its new agenda and how uncertain the party is about what Biden will accomplish.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) And Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), chairman of the Senate Minority, have both urged Biden to instruct the Secretary of Education to clean up billions of dollars in student debt - up to $ 50,000 per borrower . on his first day in office to give an instant boost to an economy still meandering through the coronavirus pandemic. Eleven other Senate Democrats supported the Schumer and Warren resolution.
It is not known whether Biden, who has taken a more limited vision of reducing student debt as part of a legislative proposal to stimulate the economy, sees his plan as legally feasible, politically smart, or good policy. With control of the Senate still unresolved and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) So far refusing to recognize Biden's victory, the feasibility of many of Biden's boldest proposals remains in the air. (Republicans are expected to have a majority in the upper chamber next year, unless Democrats can hold two runoff elections in Georgia in January.)
The intra-democratic argument about eliminating student loan debt - and more generally about pursuing unilateral measures for the economy - is likely to repeat itself again and again during the Biden administration. Progressives argue that bolder action will improve the economy and inspire enthusiasm for Democrats and moderates alike fear of alienating convincing centrist voters.
Working out student loan debt isn't the only way Progressives are pushing for Biden to kickstart the economy on his first day in office, with or without help from Congress. In a Washington Post statement released last week, Warren also suggested lowering prescription drug prices. declare a national climate change emergency that could free money for green energy projects; and raise the minimum wage for federal employees to $ 15.
"I think he should go with the mother of all executive orders to clear the decks for the work that needs to follow," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "The more he can clarify with an early executive order, the faster we can work together on other non-partisan or controversial issues."
Sen. Angus King, an independent Maineer negotiating with Democrats, was far more skeptical, suggesting that Biden should instead focus on renewing the suspension of Trump-era student loan payments due to expire in the New Year.
"That would have huge tax implications," King said of the student debt elimination. "I don't think forgiveness as a whole [makes sense]."
But it was Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), A close ally of Biden, who could have best summed up the new president's dilemma.
"I think it's preferable to do something that is bipartisan but required by law," said Casey, reiterating Biden's own desire to work with Congressional Republicans. Then the Senator quickly endorsed the progressives' general goal: "If he's in authority, sure. That would be great for a lot of students. "
During a press conference on Monday, Biden answered a question about student debt relief by reiterating his position since March: he supports legislation to immediately cancel all debts worth $ 10,000 per person and all student debt for students earning less than $ 125,000 to eliminate a year and attended public or historically black colleges and universities.
“It keeps people up,” Biden said of young adults involved in debt. "You are in real trouble. You have to make a choice between paying your student loan or paying the rent. It should be done immediately."
Biden has also proposed making public colleges tuition-free for families with incomes less than $ 125,000 per year, expanding Pell grants for low-income students, establishing the federal government's massively dysfunctional lending program for those with public service jobs, and create more generous income-related repayment plans for student borrowers.
Approximately 45 million Americans have a combined debt burden of $ 1.5 trillion, which is an average of $ 17,000 with an average payment of just over $ 200 per month. The country's collective debt burden has increased in recent years, due to both cuts in government support for public universities and rising administrative costs. The crisis has exacerbated the racial wealth gap as black students often borrow far more than their white counterparts.
Progressive groups view Biden's actions on student loans as an early test and suggest that action, as co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Adam Green, said would constitute a "display of good faith."
"Mitch McConnell has a vested interest in minimizing Joe Biden's accomplishments so that enthusiasm and popularity are low in the medium term," said Green. "But something bold - like the student debt relief during this coronavirus crisis - could spark the imagination of voters and place Democrats firmly on the side of ordinary people where the Biden government wants to be."
On the flip side, Lanae Erickson, a senior vice president of the moderate democratic group Third Way, said the party should be careful about focusing on helping college graduates - which may further alienate working class voters, celebrate and do little to help the most vulnerable to help.
"It's clear that the education gap is bigger than ever. If Democrats want to win back non-college voters in the future, it is not a good idea to spend all of your political capital on helping people with higher education," said Erickson. It will only add to the perception that Democrats only care about the elite. "
Public polls have generally shown that the majority of Americans are only a small majority or a large number of Americans in favor of getting rid of student debt. The results often depend on the specific wording of a pollster.
Progressives are skeptical that non-college voters would have a widespread backlash, arguing that any plan to reduce student debt would likely be accompanied by other measures to stimulate the economy as a whole. The Warren and Schumer resolution urges the president to ensure that the benefits do not go to the "richest" borrowers.
Most Democrats did not question whether Biden's government would have the ability to unilaterally respond to student debts. Warren and other proponents of the idea have long said that the Secretary of Education has broad authority over credit and that the Trump administration relied on that authority to suspend interest and payments during the pandemic.
Republicans are far more skeptical that Biden could unilaterally wipe out student loan debt, a proposal they broadly oppose.
Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, questioned the "legal argument" a president has for executive order cancellation of student loan debt. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Called student loans "a big problem in this country," but said cautiously about doing anything that could have "unintended consequences".
Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Another member of the banking committee, said he was firmly opposed to providing student loans.
“What about all the other categories of debt that wouldn't just be forgiven? What about the fact that some children who borrow money come from very wealthy families? You will also grant their loans? It doesn't make any sense to me, ”Toomey told HuffPost.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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