Biden student debt plan hailed as “good start” but progressives say it shows he “can cancel it all”

Biden announced plan to cancel up to $10K for borrowers earning up to $125K and up to $20K for Pell recipients

Published August 24, 2022 1:26PM (EDT)

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to an audience at United Performance Metals on May 6, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to an audience at United Performance Metals on May 6, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

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After years of activist organizing, U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a plan to cancel $10,000 to $20,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower, a move that drew both praise and admonition from progressives—many of whom want to erase $50,000 or even all educational debt.

Biden tweeted that in order "to give working and middle class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023," his administration will forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers who attended college without Pell Grants and who earn less than $125,000, or $250,000 as a household. Borrowers who received Pell Grants will have $20,000 in debt erased.

The president—who said he would discuss details of the plan at a Wednesday afternoon press briefing—also said that the pause on student loan repayments, first put in place during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, would be extended one final time through the end of the year.

While appreciating that "up to 20 million people could have their balances reduced to zero" under Biden's plan, Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective, told MSNBC that "every penny of student debt should be erased because college is a public good and it should be free."

"But there's no doubt this is a huge stepping stone—a milestone—on the path to that end," she added. "The call for debt cancellation was extremely unusual when we first raised it 10 years ago, and now the president is doing it."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted that "today is a day of joy and relief," calling Biden's move "a powerful step to help rebuild the middle class" that "will be transformative for the lives of working people all across this country."

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said that "to every organizer who fought so hard, this victory is yours. This is going to change and save lives."

Some progressives implied that canceling more student debt was a matter of priorities.

Referring to the U.S. Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, which provided loans to buoy businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asserted: "The average amount of debt forgiveness to businesses receiving PPP loans: $95,700. If we could afford to cancel hundreds of billions in PPP loans to business owners in their time of need, please do not tell me we can't afford to cancel all student debt for 45 million Americans."

Anti-poverty activist Joe Sanberg tweeted that "any form of broad cancellation is proof that he can cancel it all. We must keep the pressure on for full cancellation and tuition-free college to make higher education accessible and equitable for all."

Others decried what they called the insufficient relief offered by the president's plan, with former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner arguing that erasing just $10,000 in debt "isn't something to be 'grateful' for."

By Brett Wilkins

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