Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Divides Democrats

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President Biden’s executive order Wednesday to cancel thousands of dollars in college debt for millions of Americans has divided Democratic candidates like few other policies of his administration, with some Democrats using the plan to distance themselves from a president who could prove to be a heavy burden in their states and districts.

The responses were starkly divided along racial and generational lines, with Black candidates and younger voters more likely to approve and Democrats running as centrists more likely to be critical. But among Democratic candidates in tough campaigns, there was little consistency to be found.

Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes of Wisconsin, both Black and both hoping to be in the Senate next year, were supportive. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, a Democrat in a tight race for re-election and running as a moderate conciliator, was highly critical.

Yet Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, another Democrat seeking re-election in a swing state as a bipartisan moderate, backed the plan.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, a Senate candidate hoping to appeal to working-class voters, praised the move as relief to struggling Pennsylvanians too often forgotten by policymakers. Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, also running for the Senate as a voice of the working class, decried it as a gift to those already on a path to success at the expense of Ohioans shut out of higher education.

“While there’s no doubt that a college education should be about opening opportunities, waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement.

The sharp divisions over the debt relief order were somewhat surprising considering how long the plans were under consideration and the lengthy journey the issue has taken from a rallying cry at Occupy Wall Street protests more than a decade ago to a Biden campaign promise in 2020.

The provenance of the plan was no doubt from the left wing of the party — including Senators Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts — that campaigned on promises of far more generous debt forgiveness. The fact that Mr. Biden issued a moderate version a little more than two months before the November midterm elections might have been expected to unite the party, not divide it.

But the move was coming from an unpopular president at a time when Republicans — and some Democratic economists — have been portraying any expensive social welfare proposal as jet fuel for skyrocketing inflation.

“There’s still a real debate in the party on how interventionist the government should be,” said Waleed Shahid, a liberal strategist and spokesman for Justice Democrats, a progressive group that has strongly pushed for student debt relief. He added, “Some of these Democrats feel like they have to punch back at the president in purple states, and this is what they have chosen to punch back on.”

Beneath the raw politics of the moment are substantive criticisms. Mr. Biden’s action would cancel $10,000 in debt for Americans earning less than $125,000 per year and cancel $20,000 for low-income students who received Pell grants.

Ms. Cortez Masto and Mr. Ryan both said the debt relief was not targeted enough at low-income Americans or college students entering fields with low pay and desperate need, like rural health care or emergency medicine.

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Loan forgiveness should be a tool to fill societal needs, not a blanket gift, Mr. Ryan said. And debt relief alone, they and others argued, would not address the root cause of the problem — soaring tuition costs that have forced students to take on larger and larger debt loads.

“We should be focusing on passing my legislation to expand Pell grants for lower-income students, target loan forgiveness to those in need and actually make college more affordable for working families,” Ms. Cortez Masto said in a statement.

That position echoed remarks by Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, who is also up for re-election in a swing state.

But to Democrats on the party’s left flank, those positions appeared calculated. The bulk of the debt relief would most likely go not to graduates of elite institutions with huge debt loads but to young people who attended community college and left, perhaps without a degree but with modest debt and difficult economic prospects.

Mr. Fetterman’s campaign praised Mr. Biden’s plan as “entirely reasonable” but also called for more investment in career and technical programs for Pennsylvanians not attending college and for tuition-free two-year and community college, platforms Mr. Biden also embraced.

“This really isn’t an either/or issue,” said Joe Calvello, a Fetterman campaign spokesman. “We must be helping folks who need it, with or without college degrees.”

State electorates are different. Georgia’s young voters backed debt relief when Mr. Warnock championed it in his first campaign in 2020. They will be needed again if he hopes to win against his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker. The enthusiasm of young voters for the plan loaded up TikTok with gushing videos.

On the other hand, the backbone of the Democratic Party in Nevada has long been the Culinary Workers Union and Service Employees International Union, whose work force is mostly in roles that do not require college degrees.

More on Student Loan Debt Relief

Mr. Ryan’s opposition was an open appeal to the three-quarters of Ohioans without college degrees who might feel left out by a policy that could cost the government hundreds of billions of dollars in lost loan repayment.

It was also a response to his Republican opponent, J.D. Vance, who went on Fox News to declare, “If you want to give student debt relief, you should penalize the people who have benefited from this very corrupt system, not ask plumbers in Ohio to subsidize the life decisions of college-educated young people, primarily young people who are going to make a lot of money over the course of their lifetime anyway.”

Izzi Levy, a Ryan campaign spokesman, said the candidate’s position was “not just being contrarian.”

But other candidates in difficult races did not feel compelled to issue such criticism. Mr. Warnock claimed credit for “pushing the Biden administration since my swearing in” to make the move, which he said was only a “first step.”

“This announcement will help many Georgians, some of whom have been struggling with debt for decades, get their financial footing, and it will help keep our economy strong and growing,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Kelly in Arizona saw the president’s order not Mr. Warnock’s “first step” but as a sign of moderation. And he came to the opposite conclusion of Mr. Ryan, saying the Biden order was “more targeted than past proposals to cancel all student debt” and was “directed at those who need it most, including relief for those who attended a community college.”

Republicans saw no such divisions. They all castigated the president’s announcement. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican running for re-election in Florida against Representative Val B. Demings, promoted, as an alternative, legislation he has introduced to eliminate interest on federal student loans.

“Forgiving student loan debt isn’t free,” he said in a statement. “It means the 85 percent of Americans with no undergraduate debt from college will be carrying the burden for those that do. That is not a relief, it is an unfair burden to place on working families.” Smm Panel is the best and cheapest smm reseller panel Buy Twitter Verification for instant Instagram likes and followers, Buy Verification Badge, Youtube views and subscribers, TikTok followers, telegram services, and many other smm services. telegram, and many other smm services.