In break with progressive Democrats, Biden rejects forgiving up to $50,000 in student loans

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 9:19pm

President Joe Biden reinforced his position to break with progressive Democrats in their support of student debt forgiveness.

President Joe Biden reinforced his position to break with progressive Democrats in their support of student debt forgiveness. Buy this photo
Becca Mahon/Daily

During a Tuesday evening CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Wis., President Joe Biden reinforced his choice to break with progressive Democrats in their support for up to $50,000 in student debt forgiveness.

“I will not make that happen,” Biden said.

House and Senate Democrats — specifically Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., — have urged Biden to forgive up to $50,000 of federal student debt via an executive order within the first 100 days of his presidency.

“We are not going to let up until we accomplish it, until $50,000 of debt is forgiven for every student in the country,” Schumer said in a Feb. 4 press conference

Biden did amend his statement by explaining he thinks “everyone should be able to go to community college for free.” He also said students attending a state university whose family’s annual income is under $125,000 should be able to attend for free. 

The Go Blue Guarantee, a University of Michigan program aiming to increase accessibility to higher education, covers all mandatory undergraduate tuition and fees for in-state students whose annual family income is under $65,000. 

Biden cited hesitancy to forgive borrowers from elite colleges and universities as a chief reason for his choice and said he does not believe the policy to be economically sound. The former comment sparked criticism from many progressives who noted that students without wealthy families also attend these elite schools. 

Biden said money for student loan forgiveness would be better invested in early childhood education.

LSA sophomore Alex Dumont is the national communications director for Done Waiting, an organization pushing for the election of progressive candidates. Solomon Rajput — a 28-year-old medical student at the University— founded Done Waiting after losing a 2020 primary election to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, Ann Arbor’s incumbent representative.

Dumont said supporting up to $10,000 of debt forgiveness is a “step in the right direction,” but canceling all student loan debt is the ultimate goal for progressive organizations like Done Waiting. 

“I was really hoping for (Biden) to advocate for canceling a larger amount of debt,” Dumont said. “Currently, we have a generation that's kind of shackled down in debt. And studies have shown that even if you were to cancel some student debt, then their overall debt, the other things they owe they are going to start paying off.”

Sumeet Patwardhan, president of the University’s Graduate Employees’ Organization, told The Daily in Jan. 2021 that he believes Biden needs to do more to relieve student debt.

“I think it’s a good plan, but it could go even farther,” Patwardhan said. “Capping the plan at $10,000 will underplay the stimulus effect that student loan forgiveness can have on the economy and the equity and equality of life improvements it would have for individual borrowers.”

In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki added to the president’s statements by noting that multiple factors would have to be considered before an executive order or bill is signed. 

“He doesn't favor $50,000 in student loan relief without limitation,” Psaki said. “Obviously, there's a lot of considerations at play … There needs to be a team at the Justice Department to make a recommendation on his legal authority … And in the meantime, if Congress moves forward and sends him a package that provides $10,000 of student debt relief, he'd be eager to sign that.” 

In addition to the economic concerns regarding student loan debt, Dumont discussed how student loan debt disproportionately affects Black students and other students of color. 

“It's also very much a racial justice issue,” Dumont said. “Minorities and women are more likely to have larger amounts of student debt and are impacted by it. So, I think the best way to address this crisis ... is to just sort of wipe the slate clean and move towards a more economically healthy generation.”

Daily Staff Reporter Martha Lewand can be reached at mlewand@umich.edu.


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