Free community college is on the chopping block, but this Michigan Democrat has a message: ‘We’re going to fight right up to the closing whistle’ to get it in the package

Michigan Rep. Andy Levin
Michigan Rep. Andy Levin. Samuel Corum/Getty Images
  • Biden suggested free community college will be cut from Democrats’ social-spending bill.
  • But Michigan Rep. Andy Levin told Insider he will fight until the end to keep the measure in.
  • Levin stressed the importance of free education to tackle student debt and stimulate the economy.

Last week, President Joe Biden said during a CNN town hall it’s unlikely Democrats will be able to get tuition-free community college in the social-spending bill they’re negotiating. But that isn’t stopping Michigan Rep. Andy Levin from fighting for its inclusion.

“We are working on it right up until the final buzzer,” Levin told Insider during a Tuesday interview. “And I’m not going to stop playing the game and tussling and sweating until the whistle sounds and the game’s over.”

Levin is the original sponsor of the House version’s America’s College Promise Act, which makes the first two years of community college tuition-free. This proposal was included in Democrats’ initial plan for their reconciliation bill. However, centrist Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin expressed opposition toward the proposal, resulting in free community college and climate plans, among other things, being placed on the chopping block.

Manchin, for example, proposed setting thresholds for free community college based on income, which Levin said “is not a great policy,” but if that’s what it comes down to in order to get free community college in the bill, “I think I, and others, would probably accept it.”

“If there is a way to get to an agreement with Senator Manchin, I think that’s the compromise we might have to make in this case,” Levin said.

But what Democrats want is for every American to have access to two free years of community college. Levin emphasized the measure would significantly benefit the economy by putting people into the workforce well-equipped for the jobs that are being created.

Without free community college, college affordability provisions will be lacking in Democrats’ bill – especially when it comes to addressing rising tuition rates and the student debt crisis. Biden acknowledged during his town hall that the bill might increase Pell Grant awards, but that won’t do much to help borrowers across the country that can carry lifetime debt burdens.

Democrats are hoping to get a framework for their reconciliation bill this week before Biden heads to Glasgow for the United Nations climate summit. To appease Manchin and Sinema, measures like an extended child-tax credit and 12 weeks of paid leave are at stake, as well.

While Biden promised to get free community college passed during his presidency, Levin made clear he will “fight right up to the closing whistle” to get it into the reconciliation bill, and if he can’t, he will push to get it passed as soon as possible.

“When the American people see us start to really deliver like we are with these bills right now, they’ll say, ‘I want more of that,'” Levin said. “And then we can elect more Democrats and really pass everything the American people need, certainly including free community college.”