Nearly 46 million Americans have a total of $1.74 trillion in U.S. student loan debt. We have a higher education system in this country that places people in a system that can be described as indentured servitude, with never-ending loans that are never paid off due to unfair interest rates.
President Biden just paused student debt payments for the sixth time since March of 2020, a measure initially taken during the outset of the pandemic to alleviate the financial burden people faced as the economy crashed. The Biden administration went further than that and wiped out $6.2 billion in student debt last year by reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. $2 billion in debt held by students who say they were defrauded by for-profit schools was also canceled.
It’s great to see real steps being taken to address this unfair and predatory system that keeps so many students perpetually in debt after they join the workforce, but it’s not enough. President Biden needs to go all the way and cancel student debt for millions of Americans through executive action.
Student debt relief is popular with voters, with six out of ten Americans supporting it. Despite this, Biden is hesitant to use his executive power and has called on Congress to instead resolve the issue through legislation, something that is unfortunately unrealistic due to the gridlock currently plaguing Washington DC.
The White House has brought forward concerns about their legal authority to cancel large portions of student debt, but advocates for relief point to the $17 billion in student loans already canceled by Biden via executive authority.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is a supporter of broad student debt cancellation and has been calling on Biden to go further than what has already been done. He has met with advocates and urged them to keep pressure on the White House, arguing that they are “making progress in convincing the president to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower through a directive for Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Canceling the debt is not just the right thing to do morally, it’s also the politically smart thing to do. Polling shows that voters who hold student debt, particularly Millennial and Gen Z voters are feeling disillusioned. Fifty-one percent of people who owe student debt said they would support a Democratic running for congress, compared to 56% who said the same last October. Thirty-two percent said this month that they would back a Republican candidate, compared to 29% six months ago.
The current pause on debt payments will expire in August, and the White House would energize these voters by announcing broad student debt relief anytime between now and then. It would also be a great way of rallying the Democratic base as the party heads into a very competitive midterm election. Seventy-two percent of Democratic voters support pauses of student loan payments, and the polling referenced earlier suggests that Biden would benefit politically by going further.
Canceling student debt is the moral and right thing to do. It’s also politically convenient and popular. Let’s get it done.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.