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 SchumerTrump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration Rubio primary challenger loans campaign M Is Trump deliberately throwing the election to Clinton? MORE (D-N.Y.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and liberal heroine Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenProgressive groups urge Clinton to lead fight against a TPP vote Amazon hires antitrust lobbyist Jill Stein helps Trump as Ralph Nader helped Bush 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 BlumenthalRichard Blumenthal'Power problem' grounds southern Florida flights Dem senator's daughter could face Congress over EpiPen price hike Airlines brace for boost in travel volumes over Labor Day MORE (Conn.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerFeds weigh whether carbon pollution should be measured in highway performance Juan Williams: Dems should not take Latinos for granted Reid faces Sanders supporters' fury at DNC MORE (Calif.), Al FrankenAl FrankenLiberal hypocrisy on the free exchange of ideas Winners and losers of the Dem convention Party unity overcomes chaos...and the Bernie-or-Bust crowd MORE (Minn.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMoving beyond minimal: Fighting for paid family and medical leave McAuliffe: I wouldn't want a 'caretaker' in Kaine's Senate seat Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie HironoDem senator's name misspelled on convention screen Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate Dems pledge to keep fighting over Zika MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEd Markey'Power problem' grounds southern Florida flights Dem senator criticizes Facebook, Instagram for gun sales Apple, Google enlisted for FCC robocall effort MORE (Mass.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenTaxpayers should be wary of false sugar reform proposals 10 things candidates need to know about women entrepreneurs Dem senators to GOP: Dump Trump MORE (N.H.) and Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowKaine: Being picked for VP feels like being 'kidnapped' GOP tries to link Dem candidates to Obama on Iran 'ransom' Dem senators to GOP: Dump Trump 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 SandersBernie SandersHispanic group sends third invitation to Trump GOP senator: Anti-fossil fuel candidates ‘not fit’ for federal office Greens push Obama to block N. Dakota pipeline 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 Rodham ClintonMcAuliffe sums up Trump's pitch to black voters as 'Your life sucks' Trump: I don't want votes from white supremacists Member of Texas Electoral College threatens not to cast vote for Trump 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 RubioAnalysis: Clinton speaks at higher grade level than Trump Trump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration Senate Dems' campaign arm knocks GOP for Trump support MORE (R-Fla.) worked with Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerDem senator's daughter could face Congress over EpiPen price hike Judge rejects settlement in major Uber driver status case Fidelity denies lobbying for student loan tax break MORE (D-Va.) on a plan that would have simplified the repayment of student loans. The legislation, introduced last year, has not moved forward.