Republicans were less than thrilled with President Joe Biden’s long-awaited action on student loan debt this week. But even swing-state Democrats facing tough elections this year greeted the news with skepticism.
“As someone who pays off my family’s student loans, I know the cost of higher education is very high,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said in a statement Wednesday. “And while there’s no question that a college education should be about opening up opportunities, giving up debt for those already on a path to financial security sends the wrong message.”
Ohio is no longer a swing state, but heavy Republican spending to boost Ryan’s opponent, JD Vance, in November’s US Senate race suggests it’s still in play. Ryan has courted middle-of-the-road voters by running ads on Fox News and, at times, distanced himself from Biden.
After Biden announced up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year, moderate Democrats were among the first to stand up Wednesday.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said student loan forgiveness “sends the wrong message.” (Photo: Jay LaPrete/Associated Press)
Sen. Michael Bennett (R-Coliseum), a Democrat running for re-election, said Biden’s plan falls short in some areas, including when it comes to systemic changes to help borrowers get over the line.
“In my view, the administration should have targeted the relief further and proposed a way to pay for this plan.” he said. “While immediate relief to families is important, a one-time debt write-off does not solve the underlying problem.”
Bennett, however, is pleased that Biden’s plan includes changes to income-based repayment plans that will ease the burden especially on young borrowers.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats running for another term, disagrees with Biden’s decision to opt for a lump sum payment because it doesn’t address the root causes of the issue of college affordability.
“We should focus on passing my legislation to expand Pell grants for lower-income students, target loan forgiveness for those in need, and actually make college more affordable for working families.” he said.
Although traditional borrowers are eligible for up to $10,000 in canceled debt, recipients of Pell grants, which are given based on financial need, can get up to $20,000 forgiven under Biden’s plan.
Critics also fear that Biden’s plan will continue to fuel inflation, which has moderated somewhat but remains at a 40-year high.
“Pouring about half a trillion dollars of gasoline on the already burning inflationary fire is reckless. To do so while far exceeding one campaign promise ($10,000 in student loan relief) and breaking another (all proposals paid for) is even worse.” tweeted Jason Furmanformer economic advisor in the Obama White House.
Rep. Chris Pappas (NH), another Democrat in a battleground state, said Biden should have gone through Congress to complete student loan cancellation.
“Any plan to address student debt would have to go through the legislative process and would have to be more targeted and paid for so it doesn’t add to the deficit. The president’s plan also does not address the underlying issue of higher education affordability,” he said.
Progressives who have long wanted to see debt relief become a reality often point to the overwhelming financial burden of the collective $1.6 trillion owed by borrowers and how that debt can prevent people from buying homes, starting businesses and create families. Republicans characterize the debt cancellation as reckless spending that would unfairly benefit the nation’s top earners, college graduates.
Moderate Democrats hoping to make it through the midterm elections are carefully distancing themselves from Biden, whose slump in approval rating has rebounded after he pushed to implement the climate and health care priorities of his domestic agenda.
Not every threatened Democrat was so dubious. Sen. Maggie Hassan (NH) does not support writing off all student debt but found Biden’s approach “A balanced compromise … that will help those who need it most.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.