Dems get behind plan for debt-free college

Dems get behind plan for debt-free college

Support for debt-free college education is rising among Democrats who believe that reversing spiraling costs would be both good policy and a political winner.

On Wednesday, nine more Democratic senators came out in support of a resolution on the topic that originated with Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and liberal heroine Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Trump is a 'racist bully' Poll: Oprah would outperform Warren, Harris against Trump in California Democrats continue to dismiss positive impacts of tax reform MORE (D-Mass.).

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The resolution deals in broad strokes rather than granular details. It calls upon the federal government to provide more support to states, which can then “make increased investments in higher education that will result in lower tuition and costs for students.” It also backs increased financial aid for students — in contrast to the House GOP’s recent budget plan that would freeze Pell grants at their current level — as well as efforts to bend the cost curve of college education downward.

The nine Democrats who announced their support for the measure Wednesday are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Billionaire Steyer to push for Dem House push Billionaire Steyer announces million for Dem House push MORE (Calif.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota EMILY’s List president: Franken did 'right thing for Minnesota' Dem pledges to ask all court nominees about sexual harassment history under oath MORE (Minn.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandTrump thinks he could easily beat Sanders in 2020 match-up: report Listen: EMILY’s List upbeat about Dem House in '19 Desperate Democrats shouldn't settle for Oprah MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDem senator: Trump 'made clear' that he wants 'white people to come to our country' Hawaii false alarm sparks panic, confusion Dem senator working to ensure Hawaii false alarm ‘never happens again’ MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals Dems say they have 50 votes in Senate to overrule net neutrality repeal MORE (Mass.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSupreme Court to hear online sales tax case State official indicates US military role in Syria post-ISIS centered on Iran Overnight Health Care: Dems press HHS pick on drug prices | Alexander, Trump discuss ObamaCare fix | Senate Dems seek B to fight opioids | Maryland eyes ObamaCare mandate replacement MORE (N.H.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Prominent Michigan Republican drops out of Senate primary GOP chairman shoots down Democrat effort to delay tax work until Jones is seated MORE (Mich.).

Their names bring to 20 the total number of Senate Democrats who support the measure, which was introduced only a month ago.

Of the nine newest backers, only Blumenthal is up for reelection in 2016, and he is not expected to face a serious challenge.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) Former Sanders campaign manager: Don't expect email list to be shared with DNC Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out' MORE (I-Vt.), a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, has been a longtime advocate of reducing the costs of college education. Just last week, he introduced his own bill to eliminate tuition fees for four-year degrees at public colleges and universities. 

Under Sanders’s measure, $70 billion per year would be provided to offset costs, two-thirds of which would come from the federal government and one-third from the states. 

Sanders would fund the federal contribution to that $70 billion figure through the creation of a new tax on Wall Street transactions by “investment houses, hedge funds and other speculators.”

In a statement announcing his support of the separate Schatz-Schumer-Warren measure, Franken said, “The burden of student loan debt is a real pocketbook issue for middle-class Americans, and it’s holding back our economy.” 

Schumer, seeking to further the idea that momentum is building behind the issue, said that “when students graduate with loads of debt, the ripple effects are endless. ...When it comes to making college affordable, I’m hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea.”

Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), one of the liberal groups driving support for the measure, told The Hill that “the beauty of debt-free college is that it is a game-changing policy in millions of people’s lives and it is a tremendous winner for Democrats with voters. Our goal is to have it be a central campaign issue in 2016. When voters go to the polling booth, we want them to be thinking about debt-free college as one of the main things.”

The PCCC also notes that several of the senators declaring their support for debt-free college are allied with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE, including Franken, Stabenow and Hirono, all of whom have endorsed her bid for the presidency. 

Earlier this month, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook seemed to imply Clinton would support the idea of debt-free college, but the front-runner’s own words have been a little more nebulous. 

“We have to deal with the indebtedness — to try to move forward making college as debt-free as possible,” she said in Iowa on May 18.

Several likely Republican candidates have also talked about the issue of student debt, although they have tended to shy away from specific policy proposals. Although, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (R-Fla.) worked with Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Dem lawmaker wants briefing on major chip vulnerabilities Week ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content MORE (D-Va.) on a plan that would have simplified the repayment of student loans. The legislation, introduced last year, has not moved forward.