Biden Is Courting Bernie Voters With a New Plan to Forgive College Debt

He's also leaning toward Bernie with a plan to expand Medicare to younger Americans.
April 9, 2020, 7:40pm
Democratic presidential hopefuls former US vice president Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate.

WASHINGTON — On his first day as the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden made a pair of major shifts to the left seemingly aimed at wooing Bernie Sanders and his former supporters.

Biden made his first major policy overture to Sanders on Thursday, moving left on both healthcare coverage and college affordability as he looks to woo Sanders’ younger and more liberal supporters as well as to reframe his campaign’s policies to cope with recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The first new proposal is a major shift for Biden: He now says he wants to forgive federal student loan debt for most people who attended undergraduate public colleges and universities, as well as Historically Black Colleges and other minority-serving institutions. Anyone making under $125,000 a year would be eligible.

That’s a major bone to throw at Sanders’ younger supporters, though it doesn’t go nearly as far as Sanders’ own proposal to forgive all student debt. And it comes on the heels of Biden’s recent endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) proposal to forgive up to $10,000 of anyone’s student debt as part of coronavirus relief efforts.

Medicare expansion

The Medicare proposal is also a significant step to the left as well. He now wants anyone age 60 and over to be able to sign up for Medicare without any additional costs, a major expansion of a program currently limited to those age 65 and over. A Biden spokesman says this would be a full expansion — not a buy-in to Medicare, like Biden has long proposed through a “public option” expansion of Obamacare for anyone.

“Today I’m announcing my intention to fight for two new policies that I believe will not only help people right now when they may need the help most, but will also help people find more secure footing in the long term once we have emerged from this crisis,” Biden said in a statement announcing the plans. “The first is lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, and the second is forgiving student debt for low-income and middle class people who have attended public colleges and universities.”

Both measures aren’t nearly as sweeping as Sanders’ plans. Giving everyone under age 60 Medicare while letting everyone else buy in to the program through a public insurance option, which Biden had previously proposed, isn’t Sanders’ vision of Medicare-for-All, a fully government-run healthcare plan for everyone. Sanders also called for free college and total student loan forgiveness for everyone.

But the shifts left show that Biden, now the presumptive nominee, is nodding both to pressure to win over Sanders’ former supporters as he seeks to unify the left and center against President Trump as well as recalibrating his policies for a possible presidency that could begin in a deep economic recession, if not a depression due to the measures taken to combat the coronavirus.

Sanders was explicit that this is exactly what he wanted from Biden — some policy shifts closer to his own views in exchange for his support to beat President Trump. This seems to be a smart start from Biden as he seeks to bring the party together after a fractious primary that’s left some of Sanders’ supporters smarting.

Cover: Democratic presidential hopefuls former US vice president Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. (Photo: by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)