Sanders offers legislation to make college free

Sanders offers legislation to make college free
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.) unveiled legislation Tuesday that would make a college education free in the United States.

Calling the cost of higher education a “national disgrace,” the liberal Democratic presidential candidate argued his bill is critical for the nation’s economic future and squarely in line with U.S. values.

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“This disgrace has got to end,” he said of high tuition costs. “This is not what America is supposed to be about.”

Under the bill, every public college and university in the country would not charge tuition. Instead, the federal government, in conjunction with the states, would foot the bill.

The notion of making a four-year college education free is not likely to gain traction in the current Congress, where Republicans, in control of both chambers, would surely recoil at the bill's estimated price tag of $750 billion over the next decade.

Democrats in recent months have focused on the high amount of student debt in the U.S., trying and failing to pass legislation that would allow Americans to refinance their student loans. But Sanders’s bill would go further.

The senator, who is making economic inequality and the outsize power of the wealthy a centerpiece of his longshot presidential campaign, argued that his bill’s odds of becoming law say more about the Congress than about his idea.

“This is not a radical idea,” he said. “Only in a Congress dominated by Wall Street and big money is this considered to be a radical idea.”

He noted that countries like Germany, Denmark and Chile all offer their citizens a free college education and that, decades ago, many public schools in the United States did the same.

Acknowledging that his proposal is “an expensive proposition,” Sanders plans on covering its costs by levying a transaction tax on the financial sector.

No friend to Wall Street, Sanders recently introducing legislation that would break up the nation’s biggest banks. Calling his new proposed tax a “speculation fee” on Wall Street, Sanders said a small tax on every investment trade could raise up to $300 billion a year, more than enough to cover the cost of his bill.

Earlier this year, President Obama proposed making community college free for all Americans. Sanders called the president’s plan “an important step,” but argued the nation needs to go further.

“This is a piece of legislation that I believe has the support of the vast majority of the American people,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get this bill passed.”