Republicans attack student-loan forgiveness as an elite handout, while Democrats defend it as a way of expanding access to good-paying jobs in today’s economy.
As of Thursday, both chambers of Congress have voted to block President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers and immediately end the payment pause that has helped relieve some 40 million Americans from the $1.7 trillion crisis. Even if Biden vetoes the resolution, as he’s promised, his debt-ceiling deal with House Republicans would foreclose another extension of the payment pause, even if the Supreme Court rules that Biden’s executive actions are constitutional.
Democrats defend Biden’s student-loan forgiveness as part of a broader workforce development strategy to address the ongoing labor shortage and rebuild the middle class. However, Republicans attack it as a debt transfer from college-educated elites to the rest of the country.
“Student loan ‘forgiveness’ will benefit wealthy elites,” Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted when Biden announced his student-loan forgiveness plan in August 2022. “Once again, Joe Biden forgets about Real America,” the Ohio congressman went on.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, who co-sponsored the resolution overturning student-debt cancellation and the payment pause, said in a Fox News op-ed, “These policies are unfair to the ordinary Americans, 87% of whom have no student loans, who will now have to carry the financial burden of someone else’s student debt,” calling those who go to college Biden’s “preferred class.”
Many Democrats, however, argue that student-loan forgiveness is only one piece of the workforce development puzzle, alongside other paths to higher-wage employment like vocational training and apprenticeships.
“Workforce development doesn’t have to come with a credential from a higher education university. However, that is a pathway for some. It’s about multiple pathways,” staunch progressive Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York told Insider.
Republicans “have a push for blue collar work,” but “it’s a paradox because they also, at the same time, do not push for a living wage and affordable housing and holding corporations accountable for inflation,” Bowman said.
Other Democrats reiterated the need for multiple paths to high-paying jobs. “The emphasis on only pushing and steering folks to four-year degrees I think was a mistake,” Rep. Chris Deluzio of Pennsylvania told Insider.
But Deluzio voted with all but two House Democrats to protect Biden’s student-loan forgiveness.
“If you’re serious about” building “avenues to good paying jobs,” he explained, “you gotta give people chances to work in the trades, to go to higher ed, whatever the case may be. And that requires some federal and public investment.”
“There are lots of good avenues of strong middle-class union jobs that we’ve neglected for far too long,” the Pittsburgh Democrat said.
“What I don’t ever hear from my Republican colleagues is any effort to actually fund higher education. I don’t see any effort to fund apprenticeships, four-year college, anything in between,” Deluzio added. “They go hand in hand to me.”
Even one of the two Democrats who voted to overturn student-debt forgiveness seemed to agree.
“Expansions of student debt forgiveness need to be matched dollar-for-dollar with investments in career & technical education. I can’t support the first without the other,” Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington tweeted.
Biden has pushed for multiple paths into the middle class
Though Republicans say student-loan forgiveness is a giveaway to college-educated elites, the vast majority of debt forgiven would go to Pell Grant recipients, of whom 72% are first-generation college students and 42% come from households in the bottom 25% of earners, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has offered states hundreds of millions of dollars for apprenticeship programs to increase the supply of skilled workers without college degrees. Democrats have also invested trillions of federal dollars to create jobs in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, climate resilience, and electrification through Biden’s pandemic relief, infrastructure law, Inflation Reduction Act, and CHIPS and Science Act.
The strings attached to these federal subsidies have made it easier for workers to unionize, like a 1,400-strong Georgia factory manufacturing electric school buses that unionized in May, according to the New York Times.
“Let’s offer every American a path to a good career, whether they go to college or not, like the path you started here,” Biden told the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia in March.
Student-loan forgiveness is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to make middle-class jobs accessible to more Americans.
“So many people were able to come out of debt. So many people were able to improve their credit score, and invest more in themselves during this pause,” Bowman said about Biden’s payment pause.
With Republicans trying to end it, “It’s gonna be tough on working-class people,” he said.
“Some refer to what’s happening with technology and AI as a fourth industrial revolution,” Bowman continued. “So if that’s what we’re in right now, how are we governing differently to make sure we meet that demand?”