Republicans were less than thrilled with President Joe Biden’s much-anticipated action on student loan debt this week. But even undecided state Democrats facing difficult elections this year have greeted the news with skepticism.
“As someone who is paying off my own family’s student loans, I know the costs of higher education are very high,” Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said in a statement Wednesday. “And while there is no doubt that a college education should be about opening up opportunity, forgoing debt for those already on a trajectory of financial security sends the wrong message.”
Ohio is no longer a fickle state, but huge spending by Republicans to propel Ryan’s opponent, JD Vance, into the US Senate race in November shows it is still at stake. Ryan has been courting voters along the way by running ads on Fox News and, in some cases, distancing 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 weigh in on Wednesday.
Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said the student loan forgiveness “sends the wrong message.” (Photo: Jay LaPrete/Associated Press)
Senator Michael Bennett (Colombia), a re-election Democrat, said Biden’s plan falls short in some areas, including when it comes to systemic changes that will help borrowers in the future.
“In my opinion, the government should have targeted relief further and proposed a way to pay for this plan,” he said. he said. “While immediate relief for families is important, one-time debt cancellation does not solve the underlying problem.”
Bennett, however, is pleased that Biden’s plan includes changes to income-based payment plans that will ease the burden especially on young borrowers.
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (nev.), who is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats fighting for another term, does not agree with Biden’s decision to opt for a one-time payment as it does not address the root causes of the issue of college accessibility.
“We should focus on passing my legislation to expand Pell Grants to low-income students, targeting loan forgiveness for the needy, and actually making college more affordable for working families.” she said.
While traditional borrowers are eligible for up to $10,000 in canceled debt, Pell Grants recipients, awarded on a financial need basis, can receive up to $20,000 in forgiveness under Biden’s plan.
Critics also fear that Biden’s plan will continue to fuel inflation, which has eased somewhat but is still at a 40-year high.
“Pumping around half a trillion dollars worth of gasoline on the inflationary fire that is already burning is reckless. Doing this by going far beyond one campaign promise ($10,000 in student loan relief) and breaking another (all proposals paid for) is even worse.” tweeted Jason Furmanformer economic adviser to the Obama White House.
Representative Chris Pappas (NH), another Democrat in a struggling district, said Biden should have gone through Congress to get the student loan canceled.
“Any plan to deal with student debt must go through the legislative process, and it must be more targeted and paid for so as not to add to the deficit. The president’s plan also fails to 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 economic burden of the collective $1.6 trillion owed by borrowers and how that debt can prevent people from buying homes, launching businesses and raise families. Republicans frame debt relief as reckless spending that would unfairly benefit the nation’s highest-paid college graduates.
Moderate Democrats hoping to make it through the midterm elections are cautiously distancing themselves from Biden, whose approval rating has slipped after he pushed to pass climate and health priorities on his domestic agenda.
Not every threatened Democrat was so dubious. Senator Maggie Hassan (NH) Does Not Support Canceling 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.