Some of student loan debt cancellation’s biggest advocates in Congress have no outstanding student loan debts themselves, a Newsweek review of financial disclosures found, challenging rhetoric from some members that wholesale cancellation would be “unfair” to those who have already paid their balances.
According to documents filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, some of the biggest cheerleaders of President Joe Biden‘s ongoing student loan debt forgiveness efforts—progressive Representatives Maxwell Frost, Ayanna Pressley, Frederica Wilson, and Pramila Jayapal—have no student loan debts on their records, contrasting with several of their colleagues who would likely benefit from loan forgiveness.
Some—like wealthy California Congressman Ro Khanna—still have small amounts of debts on their record, with Khanna still paying off somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 in debt.
But others have substantially more.
Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar and New York City congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both among the proposals’ most vocal supporters, still owe between $15,000 and $50,000 in student loan debt.
Jamaal Bowman, another progressive New Yorker, owes some $220,000 combined in personal student loans for undergraduate, master and doctoral degrees in addition to $30,000 in federal parent PLUS loans. And Rashida Tlaib, a congresswoman from Detroit, is still working to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in loans connected to her law degree.
While many of the effort’s primary opponents in the Republican Party don’t have outstanding debts, some do—including some members who traditionally align with Democrats. Arizona independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who notably voted to block Democratic efforts to cancel student loan debts when the party controlled Congress, has outstanding debts with the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri between $15,000 and $50,000.
But she’s an outlier. Reviewing the financial disclosures from a list of the ten youngest members of Congress, nearly all have outstanding student debt while the Republicans—figures like Kansas Representative Jake LaTurner, Air Force veteran-turned-Congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna, and Ohio Representative Max Miller—all reported no outstanding student loan debt.
The politics of student loan debt cancellation for its supporters have been tricky to navigate.
Though many Democrats with and without student loan debt have been publicly supportive of the Biden administration’s efforts to cancel as much debt as possible following a June defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court defending a rule change by the Department of Education canceling up to $20,000 in debts per borrower, other votes on the hill have forced some members to shirk principle for a greater cause.
One example included a May 31 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to raise the federal debt ceiling, the result of a deal brokered with Republican House leadership and the Biden administration to enact several key White House priorities in exchange for a handful of concessions Republicans desired.
One of those was a provision ending a federal “pause” on student loan debt payments—a pill even cancellation’s most ardent supporters were forced to swallow.
“I am [disappointed] in this deal’s failure to live up to the commitments we’ve made to younger generations as student borrowers will see their debt relief vanish before the end of the year,” Frost, currently the youngest member of Congress, said in a statement after voting to pass the agreement.
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