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 SchumerLive coverage: Trump budget chief faces two Senate panels McConnell to Dems: Work with us on GOP's 'formidable' challenges Democrats and the boycott of Trump's inauguration MORE (D-N.Y.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and liberal heroine Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenGillibrand to oppose DeVos for Education secretary Critics eye repeal of ObamaCare prescription drug tax Warren backs Carson for HUD secretary 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 BlumenthalGillibrand to oppose DeVos for Education secretary Senate committee approves Commerce nominee GOP eyes new push to break up California court MORE (Conn.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTop Obama adviser signs with Hollywood talent agency: report 
Democrats vie for chance to take on Trump as California governor Feinstein to hold campaign fundraisers, a hint she'll run again MORE (Calif.), Al FrankenAl FrankenCritics eye repeal of ObamaCare prescription drug tax DeVos doesn’t know the ABCs of public education Franken emerges as liberal force in hearings MORE (Minn.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGillibrand to oppose DeVos for Education secretary Women's marches draw huge crowds as Trump takes office Lawmakers join women's marches in DC and nationwide MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie HironoMcMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee In Energy hearing, Rick Perry capitulated to Big Gov on all fronts Lawmakers join women's marches in DC and nationwide MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDems promise to stand up to FCC chair on net neutrality Dems seek to limit Trump's options for using nuclear weapons Sanders: I'll work with Trump on trade MORE (Mass.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenMcMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee Trump nominee: SBA should be standalone agency The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (N.H.) and Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowSanders: I'll work with Trump on trade Lawmakers join women's marches in DC and nationwide Hillary gives Bernie cool reception at Trump inaugural lunch 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 SandersSenate confirms Trump's UN ambassador Sanders: Trump 'delusional' on voter fraud claims Dems unveil infrastructure plan, reach out to Trump 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 ClintonWebb: What matters now is policy Overnight Cybersecurity: Comey reportedly staying on at FBI | Court blocks DOJ appeal in Microsoft email case Critics eye repeal of ObamaCare prescription drug tax 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 RubioWebb: What matters now is policy McMahon dodges smackdown from Small Business Committee Why the era of US global leadership is over MORE (R-Fla.) worked with Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerLive coverage: Trump budget chief faces two Senate panels Obama's last law: Talent Act will enhance government efficiency GOP, Dems hear different things from Trump MORE (D-Va.) on a plan that would have simplified the repayment of student loans. The legislation, introduced last year, has not moved forward.