Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
One of Betsy DeVos’ top brass is quitting his job at the Department of Education — and he took the time to warn everyone that many of the 45 million Americans who owe a collective $1.5 trillion in college loans will realistically never pay the federal government back.
In fact, he thinks the U.S. should just cancel their debt.
“The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity,” A. Wayne Johnson, chief strategy and transformation officer at the Department of Education, told the Wall Street Journal.
Johnson, who announced he’ll resign Thursday, has been with the Trump administration since 2017 and had previously served as chief operating officer of student aid under DeVos, according to the Wall Street Journal. But his new plan doesn’t exactly jibe with the Department of Education’s current stance on student loan debt — it’s more in line with, say, progressive Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Johnson's hope is to forgive up to $50,000 in federal student debt for borrowers, regardless of their income. That’s even more sweeping than Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s current student debt platform since she has a cap on full benefits for people earning more than $100,000. (Johnson’s plan is closer to Sen. Sanders’ 2020 debt platform, since Sanders plainly wants to get rid of all federal student loan debt.)
Nearly 40% of borrowers are expected to default on their student loans by 2023, according to a 2018 report from the Brookings Institute. Johnson’s plan would help about 37 million borrowers, he said. For those who have already repaid student debt, he’s interested in a tax credit of up to $50,000, paid for with a 1% tax on corporate earnings.
“We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files — it rides on their back — for decades,” Johnson, who wrote his dissertation on student debt, told the Journal.
But Johnson’s plan is far from what his former boss stood for. Education Secretary DeVos told Fox News on Friday that similar Democratic proposals to cancel student debt are “crazy.” "Who do they think is actually going to pay for these? It's going to be two of the three Americans that aren't going to college paying for the one out of three that do," DeVos said. "Let's look at this for what it really is: a federal takeover of higher education."
Johnson now plans to run on the 2020 Republican ticket for a Senate seat in Georgia, where he can pitch student debt cancellation to Congress. Before that, he hopes Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint him to the interim position created by Sen. Johnny Isakson’s impending retirement.
More than 500 people have applied for the governor’s appointment, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Cover image: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a school choice event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)