The West Virginia Democrat who played a key role in passing President Joe Biden’s climate, health care and tax bill last month says he does not support the White House plan to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt.
“I just thought that it was excessive,” Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters Tuesday. “I just respectfully disagree on that.”
Manchin said that he would have taken a different approach on student debt. “When people were calling me from back in West Virginia, I would give them all the options they had that would reduce their loan by going to work in the federal government,” he said. “You have to earn it.”
Other Democrats agree: Some Democratic lawmakers – especially those in tight reelection contests this fall – have expressed their own concerns. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), the Democratic candidate for Senate in a state that has been leaning further to the right, made it clear that he does not support the White House plan.
“As someone who’s paying off my own family’s student loans, I know the costs of higher education are too high,” Ryan said last week. “And while there’s no doubt that a college education should be about opening opportunities, waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet.”
Ryan said he would have preferred to give tax breaks to low- and middle-income households, provide some degree of medical debt cancellation for all Americans, and offer loan refinancing for those with student debt.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, another Democrat facing a tough reelection battle, recently criticized the plan for failing to address the basic problem of the price of higher education. “We should be focusing on passing my legislation to expand Pell Grants for lower-income students, targeting loan forgiveness to those in need and actually make college more affordable for working families,” she said.
Not all Democrats in tight races are distancing themselves from Biden’s plan, however. Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire – the target of a $23 million ad campaign funded by the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs Republicans – recently said she supports the White House effort.
"The rising cost of higher education has led to greater and greater debt for far too many Granite Staters,” Hassan said. “While I do not support canceling all student debt – believing instead that we need to focus on targeted relief and bringing down the cost of higher education – the administration's announcement is a balanced compromise approach that will help those who need it the most.”
White House defends plan: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday defended the Biden debt forgiveness effort, saying it was a one-time event driven by the economic dislocations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The intent of this debt relief is to make sure borrowers are not worse off after this pandemic than they were before,” Cardona told reporters.
Still, Cardona acknowledged that one-time debt relief won’t solve the long-term problem of high educational costs. That’s why the White House also reduced the required monthly payments on student loans from 10% of discretional income to 5%, he said. And the administration is looking into additional steps to ensure that colleges provide “a better return on investment.”
“The worst thing that could happen is for us to provide debt relief and be in the same position five years from now,” Cardona said. “So if we don't stop the bleeding, we're going to be in the same position we're in.”