Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden steps off Marine One as he arrives on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 2022 hours before a scheduled press briefing on his student debt relief plan. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Progressives Say Biden Student Debt Plan 'A Good Start, But Not Enough'

"In the long term, we need to keep pushing for more relief and for free public college and vocational school," said Rep. Ro Khanna.

After years of activist organizing, U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a plan to cancel $10,000 to $20,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower, a move that drew both praise and admonition from progressives--many of whom want to erase $50,000 or even all educational debt.

"Every penny of student debt should be erased because college is a public good and it should be free."

Biden tweeted that in order "to give working and middle class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023," his administration will forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers who attended college without Pell Grants and who earn less than $125,000, or $250,000 as a household. Borrowers who received Pell Grants will have $20,000 in debt erased.

Additionally, the plan will cap interest for current and future loans at 5% of a borrower's income, half of the current rate.

The president--who said he would discuss details of the plan at a Wednesday afternoon press briefing--also said that the pause on student loan repayments, first put in place during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, would be extended one final time through the end of the year.

"Today, with President Biden's announcement, 12 million American borrowers have had their educational debts erased, and millions more will be able to celebrate substantial cancellation that eases the indignity that predatory student loans have had on their lives," Melissa Byrne, executive director of the advocacy group We The 45 Million, said in a statement.

"This is a historic first step--establishing the clear authority that the president has to cancel student debt--but this should just be the beginning," Byrne added. "Now, the movement for higher education justice kicks into high gear. We need Congress to send President Biden a bill for free public college and to cancel the outstanding student loan debt that smothers the future of far too many Americans."

While appreciating that "up to 20 million people could have their balances reduced to zero" under Biden's plan, Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective, told MSNBC that "every penny of student debt should be erased because college is a public good and it should be free."

"But there's no doubt this is a huge stepping stone--a milestone--on the path to that end," she added. "The call for debt cancellation was extremely unusual when we first raised it 10 years ago, and now the president is doing it."

Democratic lawmakers welcomed Biden's announcement, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) calling the president's plan "a massive step in the right direction."

"While not as high as we called for, this crucial step from the president keeps his campaign promise," Jayapal continued.

"We are also pleased to see the pause on payments extended through December 2022, but we encourage the White House to ensure that repayments do not begin until debt cancellation can reach the people who need it," she added. "Under President Biden, no one has had to make a payment on a federal student loan. If millions have to restart these payments before the forgiveness reaches them, it would only increase the anxiety and hardship Americans are feeling amid other rising costs."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted that "today is a day of joy and relief," calling Biden's move "a powerful step to help rebuild the middle class" that "will be transformative for the lives of working people all across this country."

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said that "to every organizer who fought so hard, this victory is yours. This is going to change and save lives."

Some progressives implied that canceling more student debt was a matter of priorities.

Referring to the U.S. Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, which provided loans to buoy businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asserted: "The average amount of debt forgiveness to businesses receiving PPP loans: $95,700. If we could afford to cancel hundreds of billions in PPP loans to business owners in their time of need, please do not tell me we can't afford to cancel all student debt for 45 million Americans."

Anti-poverty activist Joe Sanberg tweeted that "any form of broad cancellation is proof that he can cancel it all. We must keep the pressure on for full cancellation and tuition-free college to make higher education accessible and equitable for all."

Others decried what they called the insufficient relief offered by the president's plan, with former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner arguing that erasing just $10,000 in debt "isn't something to be 'grateful' for."

A new poll published Wednesday by Data for Progress and Student Borrower Protection Center showed that 60% of voters support the federal government eliminating all or some student loan debt for every borrower. The survey found that more than 8 in 10 Democrats, slightly over half of Independents, and 45% of Republicans back partial or full cancellation.

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