- Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced Senate legislation on Monday to eliminate the $US1.6 trillion in student-loan debt held in the US and make all public higher education tuition-free, carving new progressive territory in a competitive Democratic presidential primary.
- The bill would have the federal government pay to erase virtually all the student debt held by an estimated 45 million Americans with a new tax on Wall Street transactions. The Sanders campaign said the tax would generate $US2 trillion over 10 years to cover its cost.
- It’s part of a broader package from Sanders that would also make public universities, trade schools, and community colleges tuition-free.
- But the Sanders plan is likely to face objections from some centrist Democrats concerned about the bill benefiting wealthier people, as well as from conservatives worried about its high cost.
- Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed on Monday a plan to eliminate the $US1.6 trillion in student-loan debt held in the US and make all public higher education tuition-free, carving out new territory in a competitive Democratic presidential primary.
Introduced into the Senate, the bill would have the federal government pay to erase virtually all the student debt held by an estimated 45 million Americans with a new tax on Wall Street transactions. The Sanders campaign said the tax would generate $US2 trillion over 10 years to cover its cost, an expense likely to trigger opposition from moderate Democrats.
At a press conference unveiling the proposal, Sanders said: “We will make a full and complete education a human right in America to which all of our people are entitled.”
It’s part of a broader package from Sanders that would also make public universities, trade schools, and community colleges tuition-free. Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal are introducing a companion bill in the House. Both are progressive lawmakers who have championed tuition-free college during their time in Congress.
Federal data shows that the share of student debt has doubled over the past decade from $US700 billion to $US1.6 trillion, overtaking credit cards and car loans as the biggest share of debt Americans hold. The average college student graduates with at least $US30,000 in debt, CNBC reported.
The Vermont senator’s plan to erase student debt is one of the most ambitious proposals yet from the sprawling Democratic presidential-primary field, put forward only two days before the first primary debates in Miami. And it aligns with his campaign’s message to address the economic anxieties of Americans and boost the middle class. In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” that aired yesterday, Sanders described student debt as “an incredible burden on an entire generation of people.”
Two other Democratic candidates have proposed a variety of student-debt-forgiveness plans. Sen. Elizabeth Warren put forward a plan with a price tag of $US640 billion that would combine tuition-free college and up to $US50,000 in debt forgiveness, and it is also centered on a new tax on Wall Street. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro’s plan would offer limited debt forgiveness for people receiving public assistance.
Colleen Campbell, the director of Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, told INSIDER the Sanders proposal brings “a left flank” on an issue that’s increasingly important to the Democratic electorate – many of whom are young millennials saddled with student-loan debt.
“By proposing a universal plan, you essentially end up in a situation where there aren’t false positives of people who might have a higher income but really be struggling,” Campbell said. “But I think there’s merits to consider that apply to universal plans that don’t necessarily apply to ones that are more means-tested.”
But the Sanders plan is likely to face objections from some centrist Democrats concerned that the bill benefits wealthy people, as well as from conservatives worried about its high cost.
Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank, criticised the Sanders campaign’s number crunching, tweeting that the cost of the plan could be $US3 trillion, adding, “Even Sanders rosy financial tax estimate is not close to enough.”
Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at Temple University and an expert in higher-education financing, told The Washington Post that the proposal gave her some reservations. “There’s a piece of me that has seen how widespread the pain is, including among people you might say are financially fine. But there’s a piece of me that knows what the pot looks like, and says, ‘That’s not the best use of the money,'” she said.
During his presidential campaign in 2016, Sanders campaigned for tuition-free college regardless of income.