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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 SchumerManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' MORE (D-N.Y.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and liberal heroine Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren wants probe into whether former U.S. soldiers worked as assassins for UAE 'Broad City' stars urge Clinton not to run again Big Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches 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 BoxerFormer Dem aide makes first court appearance on charges of posting GOP senators' info online Ex-House intern charged with 'doxing' GOP senators during Kavanaugh hearing Capitol Police arrest suspect in doxing of GOP senators MORE (Calif.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Dem holds single-digit lead in race to replace Franken GOP lawmaker once belittled sexual harassment: 'How traumatizing was it?' MORE (Minn.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Booker bill would create federally funded savings account for every child Affordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign MORE (N.Y.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoKavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight Chris Cuomo: Presumption of innocence didn't apply to Kavanaugh because it wasn't a court case Lindsey Graham hits Dem senator: 'The Hirono standard is horrific' MORE (Hawaii), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda MORE (Mass.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (N.H.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Republican Senate candidate apologizes after swastika spotted in campaign ad Poll: Dem Stabenow has 9-point lead over Republican James in Michigan Senate race 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) SandersHarris presses young people to vote early in Iowa trip Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout 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 ClintonHillicon Valley: Bolton tells Russians 2016 meddling had little effect | Facebook eyes major cyber firm | Saudi site gets hacked | Softbank in spotlight over Saudi money | YouTube fights EU 'meme ban' proposal Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout 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 RubioCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Rubio: Khashoggi killing was ‘disrespectful to Trump’ O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot MORE (R-Fla.) worked with Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems can use subpoena power to reclaim the mantle of populism Is there a difference between good and bad online election targeting? Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel MORE (D-Va.) on a plan that would have simplified the repayment of student loans. The legislation, introduced last year, has not moved forward.