Forgiving Student Loans Will Help Democrats

[ Posted Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022 – 15:07 UTC ]

President Joe Biden has always been a rather reluctant reformer of higher education, which is somewhat odd considering his wife works as a community college teacher. For example, during the 2020 Democratic primary race progressives such as Bernie Sanders were arguing for tuition-free college at all state-run colleges and universities. Biden was far more restrained, and said he favored only tuition-free college for two years of community college, which would have left out state university students entirely. The tuition-free community college idea was later included in Biden's Build Back Better plan, but that was before it hit the brick wall named "Joe Manchin." The concept didn't survive in the limited Inflation Reduction Act at all. Also during the primary campaign, the progressives were pushing for either outright cancellation of all student debt or forgiving at least $50,000 of debt per student. Biden was never on board with such sweeping proposals, and countered with his own idea of perhaps forgiving $10,000 in student debt. Which is what might just get announced tomorrow.

As I said, Biden has been rather reluctant to make this move. He has waited over a year and a half to act. Nothing has really been stopping him from acting before now, but he is being squeezed by a different deadline at the moment, which has forced his hand. Student loan payments are scheduled to go back to normal at the end of this month. They have been halted for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, so there are a lot of former students out there that have gotten very used to not having to make their payments. It's going to be a shock for them to start up again. But this shock was always coming -- it's just been postponed regularly. However, with the pandemic turning into an epidemic and dropping off most people's radar, it's going to soon be impossible to make the case that we're still under a state of "emergency." Biden is quite likely to announce tomorrow that there will be one final extension of the due date (for whatever length of time, likely "until after the midterm elections, at least") but then that will be it. It will be a warning to everyone to get their finances ready to start repayment once again, since no more extensions will be happening.

But this medicine is reportedly going to be served up with a big spoonful of sugar -- the $10,000 in debt forgiveness. Biden has been conflicted on the subject because he is getting lots of contradictory advice. This is all fine and good -- it's how presidents are supposed to weigh such big policy decisions -- but the ones making the case against any debt relief have apparently made both the economic arguments and the political ones as well. "It will be resented by some people" is what the political argument boils down to.

Well, of course it will. Republicans are going to denounce it just because it is a Democratic idea. Such knee-jerk-ism is par for the GOP course, these days. And they'll latch onto any reason they can come up with to convince people it is a bad idea. "I don't want my taxes going to some rich kid's pocket!" will likely be the upshot of their arguments.

What the advisors are more concerned with is Democratic pushback on the issue. Hopefully, though, Biden will ignore these concerns and just go ahead and do it.

The counterargument is so easy to make, after all, and it will help Democrats with two crucially-important demographic groups. The first is the students themselves. This isn't just going to be a godsend for many, they might actually even be motivated to go vote in November to say a big: "Thank you!" to Joe Biden's Democrats. And youth turnout surging could turn the entire election picture around, as it proved to do in 2018. But equally important is how this would play in the suburbs. Parents strive to give their kids the best education they can, and no more so than in suburbia. Even if their own kids didn't directly benefit (too young, too old, whatever), they would likely approve of making it easier on other families (their neighbors) to send their kids to college. Hearing all the Republican weeping and wailing about what a bad idea it is isn't going to change this, I would bet. The class envy and anti-elitism isn't going to play as well in the 'burbs as it does out in farm country, that's my guess at any rate.

Because Biden is so cautious, it has been reported that he'll be looking to construct the program to avoid too much criticism. Only ex-students making less than $125,000 (or perhaps $150,000) a year will be eligible, from what has been reported. Only undergraduate debt will be included. And it might even be limited only to students who attended state-run universities and colleges.

Even with the limits, it is going to help tens of millions of families. An astounding 1 in 5 Americans holds student debt. That's a lot. And that doesn't even count those who previously had a student loan, just the current ones. Of the people who have outstanding student loans, one-third of them owe less than $10,000, so their debt would just completely disappear under Biden's plan. Poof! Gone! You are free! Another one-fifth of them owe from $10,000 to $20,000, so their debt would at least be cut in half -- and for most it'd be a lot better than just one-half. That adds up to 53 percent of the people who hold student loans who would either see their debt be completely forgiven or at least having it cut by more than half. The other 47 percent have even higher debt, but trimming $10,000 off of it will likely mean they'll be able to pay their loans off years earlier than they would have.

That's a big deal. A really big deal.

From the Democrats' perspective, it boils down to a simple question to ask the voters: "Are you for a one-time $10,000 federal subsidy for college students who still owe student loans, or are you against that idea?" Or, to boil it down even further: "Are you for making paying for college easier or not?" That is the political battleground this is going to be fought on, no matter what the other side throws at it.

Again, this is a very easy case to make to young voters. They'll be the ones to benefit, for the most part. And this was an explicit Biden campaign promise that he has yet to deliver on, so getting it right at the start of the school year is probably going to help get young voters excited about voting for some Democrats in the midterms.

It is also an easy case to make to suburban families. Parents know how outrageous college costs are. They don't need to be told that part of it. They know their kids struggle with a mountain of debt right when they are trying to get a toehold on setting up an adult life for themselves. They know full well what having to pay off student loans for years means (for many college graduates) -- putting off buying a home or even starting a family. These are life-changing things that most families who send their kids off to college have to face.

Joe Biden forgiving $10,000 in student debt isn't going to solve everyone's problems. But it'll certainly help tens of millions of people in a very concrete and impactful way. It will be Democrats doing good things to encourage higher education, while Republicans fight tooth and nail against making college costs any cheaper for anyone. That's a good fight to have, out in the suburbs. And the suburbs are where Republicans have been acutely bleeding votes. Donald Trump drove many previously-Republican suburban voters into the arms of the Democratic Party, and one of the biggest unanswered political questions of the 2022 election is going to be whether they return to voting for Republicans or start to become reliable Democratic voters. Forgiving $10,000 in student loans is quite likely to help Democrats achieve this, if it does happen.

But whether for political reasons or just for "It's the right thing to do" and "It won't solve everything, but it'll help" reasoning, Joe Biden announcing $10,000 in debt forgiveness to students is going to benefit Democrats. Because most Democrats don't see educating kids as a bad thing. So most Democrats will see Joe Biden helping students pay for college as a very good thing indeed.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Forgiving Student Loans Will Help Democrats”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    I think student debt could be a winning issue, but not all student debt is equal. Free money for mediocre students who overspent doesn't always ring true. What does make sense is to outlaw compound interest on student loans. Everyone should have to pay back what they borrowed; nobody should have to pay back five times the initial cost of their education.

  2. [2] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Poet--I certainly agree that there should not be compound interest on student loans. I'm inclined to think that debt forgiveness should be linked to adult income in some way, and perhaps automatically forgiven after a set period of years for lower income levels. But it's so crazily far beyond the levels when I was in the first cohort to get student loans, as are other things like rent and house prices, that I have no idea what numbers would be fair and workable.

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:

    That "Red Wave" we've been promised for months and months has tonight produced a Blue Middle Finger in a district that leans Republican by 4.7%.

    The NY Post (of course) reports: "Republican wins 'bellwether' NY-19 special election for congress." Think I am kidding? Read the words imbedded in the link:

    Maybe they'll fix their mistake before Alexander Hamilton starts turning in his grave. :)

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    From the Democrats' perspective, it boils down to a simple question to ask the voters: "Are you for a one-time $10,000 federal subsidy for college students who still owe student loans, or are you against that idea? Or, to boil it down even further: "Are you for making paying for college easier or not?"

    Or, to cut straight to the chase:

    Are you for cancelling college debt or for:
    * banning books?
    * whitewashing history?
    * unfunded government-mandated forced birth?

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I would have gone higher than $10,000 and I would have made it a cash payment to those who borrowed and repaid in full. This would be fairer and would boost our economy just like the Stimulus checks did.

  6. [6] 
    dsws wrote:

    [16] of a previous thread


    But, you have to use the other type brackets.

    Hi Dan!

    Hi, and thanks.

  7. [7] 
    dsws wrote:

    I'm not big on fairness. If we can make things better for everyone, but only by making it a little better for some people and a lot better for other equally-deserving people, we should do it.

    I'm often not all that impressed by the putative effects of incentives, either, as expressed in my habitual caricature of capitalism: If we pay people enough for being rich, and fine people enough for being poor, no one will choose to be born poor ever again.

    But I am inclined to prioritize student debt forgiveness lower than I otherwise would, on the grounds that it selectively helps people who could afford to go to college in the first place. Rather than "this will help (bignumber) people families", I suspect that it would be more effective to amplify the stories of people who borrow $50k for college, pay back $500k over a couple decades, and wind up owing $5M at the end of it (or whatever the amounts happen to be).

  8. [8] 
    dsws wrote:

    Hmpf. It says "people families" because there's a strikethrough tag on "people", and it worked in preview mode.

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