Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Divides Democrats

President 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.

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This article is part of our Midterms 2022 Daily Briefing

By Maggie Astor

Elected officials were divided this week on President Biden’s announcement of student loan forgiveness, not only along party lines but also within the Democratic Party.

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. Many Democrats praised the plan as essential relief for borrowers. But some progressives said it did not go far enough, and some centrists and candidates facing difficult re-election campaigns said it was too broad. Republicans appeared to condemn it universally.

Representatives Ayanna S. Pressley and Cori Bush, two members of the progressive group in Congress known as the squad, praised the plan. Ms. Bush called Mr. Biden’s measure “a vital first step” but advocated cancellation of all student debt on Twitter. Ms. Pressley was more effusive, saying in a statement that Mr. Biden’s action would “change lives for the better” and “help millions of people to make ends meet, build generational wealth, grow their families, purchase homes and more.” Both women are running for re-election in safely Democratic districts.

By contrast, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, a Democrat who is in a tight race for re-election, said in a statement that she did not support Mr. Biden’s decision “because it doesn’t address the root problems that make college unaffordable.” Ms. Cortez Masto said that loan forgiveness should be more targeted to low-income Americans — a sentiment echoed by Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, in a statement — and that Congress should expand Pell grants.

Representative Tim Ryan, a moderate Democrat who is running in a difficult race for Senate in Ohio, also criticized the plan, saying in a statement: “As someone who’s paying off my own family’s student loans, I know the costs of higher education are too high. And 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.”

Like some other Democrats, Mr. Ryan cast the plan as unfair government assistance for higher-income Americans, noting that the $125,000 income cap meant it would forgive loans for some “six-figure earners.”

Despite Mr. Ryan’s statement that he did not support the executive action, his Republican opponent, J.D. Vance, sought to pin it on him, writing on Twitter: “Thanks to Tim Ryan and Joe Biden, Ohio workers are paying off the loans of Harvard Law students.”

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican running for re-election in Florida against Representative Val B. Demings, similarly criticized the plan and 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.”

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

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