March 24, 2023

For Democrats backing the White House student loan forgiveness program, it was the fulfillment of one of Joe Biden’s long-awaited presidential campaign promises.

For Republicans — and even some in the president’s party — it’s an unwise move and unfair to those struggling to pay off their loans or decide not to go to college.

In the student debt relief program, both sides see an opportunity to push their political message ahead of the crucial November midterm elections. While Democrats believe the loan forgiveness will provide a lifeline to struggling working-class families, Republicans have accused it of being a giveaway to the “elite.”

In the midterms, elitist rhetorical tactics “align with the current Republican brand of disaffected and victimized politics,” said conservative strategist Chip Felkel, “giving them another rallying point to Broaden their base and potentially attract some like-minded independents who think this behaviour is ‘unfair’.”

The White House and some of Biden’s key allies agree that the focus on the elite is on Republicans, and that the potential beneficiaries of student loan debt relief include not just the wealthy.

“Who pays the piper?” U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, one of Biden’s key congressional allies, noted that Republicans passed the Trump administration in 2017. The tax cuts for the rich and big corporations are real sins. “I think a lot of the low-income people we’re trying to help today, those families are paying for the tax cuts and the rich and big corporations are exempt. … This is another attempt by this administration to help working families.”

Biden’s plan would forgive $10,000 of federal student loan debt for people earning less than $125,000 a year or families earning less than $250,000 a year. It will also cancel an additional $10,000 for those receiving federal Pell Grants to attend college and will suspend federal student loan repayments.

The two sides’ rhetoric about student debt loan relief may also reflect the level of education in their core constituencies, even though many who take college courses and apply for student loans don’t end up graduating from college.

In the 2020 presidential election, 44% of Biden voters have a college degree, compared with 34% of Trump voters, according to data from the Associated Press VoteCast, based on a broad survey of voters. 56% of Biden voters do not have a college degree, compared with 66% of Trump voters.

Initially hesitant to broadly cancel student loan debt, Biden has gradually embraced deeper tactics to ease the burden during the 2020 campaign, even expressing support for some proposals by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who would broadly cancel student loan debt As a sign she herself bids.

This week, Warren applauded Biden’s plan, saying she would “continue to fight for more because I think it’s the right thing to do,” but noted “what it means for the president of the United States to reach out to so many hard-working middle classes” — —Class families are so direct. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also running to “cancel all student debt” in 2020, called the plan “an important step forward” but said “we have to do more.” . “

Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told a White House briefing on Friday that student loan forgiveness would help “teachers, nurses, firefighters, police, military, and more.”

But not all Democrats are enthusiastic about student debt loan relief, especially those candidates who face a tough race in November.

Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who faced off in Ohio’s U.S. Senate battle with Republican JD Vance, criticized Biden’s order as unnecessary for some and unfair for others. Ryan, who said he was repaying his family’s own loans, said “forgiving the debt of those already on track to financial security sends the wrong message to millions of Ohioans without degrees who are equally struggling to make ends meet.”

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, in his difficult re-election bid, said the government should “come up with a way to pay for the program,” adding that “one-time debt cancellation doesn’t solve the underlying problem.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have focused on the upper end of the income bracket in Biden’s student loan program, dismissing it as a boon for the rich.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the plan “student loan socialism” and “very unfair.” He said inflation was “crushing down working families” and condemned Biden’s proposed solution to “allocate more government funds to higher-paid elites.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who is seeking re-election, said it was “very unfair to families who didn’t send their kids to college or failed to pay off their student debt.”

“Democrats know that robbing middle-class taxpayers to bail out Harvard Law graduates is an untenable policy,” said Mike Berger, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is running for re-election this year in addition to laying the groundwork for a possible 2024 presidential challenge to Biden — posted on his social media accounts, ” Forcing truck drivers to be people with PhDs in gender studies.”

The debate that the recipient of the relief program is a gender studies major is popular among Republicans, even though only a handful of students nationwide study in the field.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the more than 2 million people in the U.S. who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2020, less than 0.4 percent, or about 7,700, earned a degree in gender, cultural or ethnic studies.

Within 48 hours of Biden’s announcement, Facebook and Instagram posts mentioning the term “gender studies” were up for grabs, according to comments from conservative pundits and politicians, including DeSantis and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves. To over 500,000 mentions, comments and likes. Data from social media insights tool CrowdTangle.

The posts underscore how conservatives plan to eliminate potential frustration for millions of blue-collar workers who skip college and may not see the benefits of Biden’s student loan debt relief order. Some key Republicans, including DeSantis, hold multiple Ivy League degrees.

Aneesa McMillan, deputy executive director of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, said student loan relief would help drive support for Democrats in the midterms.

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve seen Joe Biden’s historic turnout,” McMillan said, “and he’s consistently delivering on his promises to voters.”

Still, Fellkel doubts the order’s ultimate impact on Biden’s party, given the challenges Democrats have had in meeting internal factions.

“While progressives on the left have been pushing for a while, I don’t think it’s going to push them in the November election as they hoped,” he said. “Those pushing have already voted Democrat. Trying to keep progressives happy will hurt some Democrats in a tough race.”


Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Chris Megerian and Amanda Seitz in Washington and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at


Find out more about AP’s coverage of student loans at and the midterm elections at

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