Voices: Not every Democrat is jazzed about canceling student debt

·4-min read
AOC has made it clear that she supports canceling student debt (AFP via Getty Images)
AOC has made it clear that she supports canceling student debt (AFP via Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Joe Biden told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus he is considering canceling student debt altogether. This is an idea that has galvanized Democrats across the spectrum, ranging from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — far from an ideological ally of the president — to House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a critic of progressives whose endorsement many credit with Biden winning the South Carolina primary and therefore the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Many progressives like AOC figure that the plan would amp up youth turnout, at a time when Biden’s polling numbers among young Americans are at a dismal 33 percent. Meanwhile, some analysis shows student debt contributes to the racial wealth gap, since student debt lowers creditworthiness and thus hurts Black Americans’ chances of home ownership – one of the best ways to build wealth.

As a result, many Democrats were clearly invigorated by the reports of Biden’s shift in thinking. Representative Ilhan Omar, who serves as whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told your reporter she was “very excited” and that “I think anytime you do anything on behalf of the people, you are rewarded”. And as Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters on Wednesday: “Anything that gets us closer to the cancellation of $50,000 in student loan debt is good, but the very best is to go ahead and cancel the debt.”

Even as some Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney criticized the idea on Twitter, Warren told me that she was not worried Republicans would try to block it or challenge it in a lawsuit. She noted how they didn’t challenge Barack Obama, Donald Trump or Biden when they tried to cancel certain other types of debt. “But if the Republicans want to take the position that the more than 40 million Americans that are dealing with student loan debt should be cut off before the election, let them take that position,” she declared.

Not everyone is so pumped up.

Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia is perhaps one of the leading voices for moderation within the Democratic Party. Shortly after the poor congressional results ofthe 2020 elections, she blasted her left-wing colleagues, telling them to “not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” and “don’t say defund the police when that’s not what we mean”. After Democrats lost the Virginia governor’s race last year, she criticized progressives for trying to push Biden further left, telling the New York Times: “Nobody elected him to be FDR, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” (House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy later used that same line when delivering an hours-long rant in an effort to stall Build Back Better. AOC responded: “I did”.)

In the same vein, when reporters asked her on Wednesday what she thought about Biden canceling student debt, Spanberger gave a non-answer. “I think it depends wholly what the proposal is,” she told your reporter. “What’s the dollar amount, what’s the purpose, who’s impacted? I have many, many questions. It’s a lot more than... a bumper sticker item for me.”

One potential reason for wariness is that after the recent redistricting of the commonwealth (don’t dare let a Virginian catch you call it a state), Spanberger — who flipped a district in central Virginia in 2018 as part of the Blue Wave suburban revolt — now finds herself running in a district with only a 2 percent Democratic lean. And 2022 promises to be a rough year for her party.

After I pressed her for her thoughts on canceling student debt, she paused before answering. “When I’m in my district, there’s 20 things that people are talking to me about,” she said. “...[T]he impact of student loans – and debt overall, house loans, car loans, medical debt – the debt that Americans have is significant. It impacts their choices.

“Certainly, in my district, when people are talking about how they are impacted, I just talked to a constituent the other day who had the experience of getting a car impounded and filed for bankruptcy. College loans were not part of that discussion. It’s the day-to-day expenses of being an American, of surviving with kids and a family and two years of disrupted income, that’s what’s on people’s minds.”

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