Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t waiting to win the presidency to cancel student loan debt for millions of borrowers — she wants Congress to act now.
Along with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Warren on Tuesday introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress that would automatically eliminate $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers whose households make less than $100,000 per year.
People making six figures would still see a partial cancellation of their student loans. In total, the bill would help some 42 million Americans, Warren’s policy staff estimates, eliminating student loan debt entirely for 75 percent of borrowers.
“Washington has only allowed the [student debt] crisis to get worse — especially for people of color. Enough is enough,” Warren said in a statement on Tuesday. “Congressman Clyburn and I have a bill to cancel student debt for millions of Americans and finally end this crisis.”
On the campaign trail, Warren frequently emphasizes that the $50-per-semester tuition she paid to attend the University of Houston in the late '60s is “how the daughter of a janitor in a small town in Oklahoma got to become a teacher, a law school professor, a U.S. senator, and eventually, a candidate for president of the United States.”
Student loan debt quadrupled between 2004 and 2017, from $345 billion to $1.4 trillion, and people of color are most disproportionately saddled with high debt and interest rates.
Aside from eliminating student debt, Warren and Clyburn’s bill would also allow borrowers to pause making loan payments for one year, as well as place a yearlong freeze on lenders’ ability to take a chunk of borrowers’ wages to repay their loan balance.
The bill mirrors some of what Warren has proposed on the campaign trail. But Warren’s broader education plan, rolled out in April, would also allocate $50 billion for historically black universities and make two- and four-year public college tuition free. Warren’s education plan would also prevent for-profit colleges from receiving any federal funding.
In total, that plan would cost $1.25 trillion over 10 years. Warren proposed implementing a tax on the 75,000 wealthiest families in America to pay for the plan.
The only Democratic candidate with a more ambitious student loan debt forgiveness plan is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In June, he proposed cancelling all student loan debt for every one of the estimated 45 million borrowers in the U.S.
Sanders’ proposal, by comparison, would cost an estimated $2.2 trillion over 10 years. He has advocated for a “Wall Street tax” to pay for it, which would place a small tax on every stock or bond sold in the U.S.
Current Democratic frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden has previously said he supports free community college, as well as student loan debt relief only for people making under $25,000 annually.
Read more: The Pell Grant program has an $8 billion surplus.
Notably, Biden once backed a bankruptcy bill — which Warren opposed — that included a provision exempting private student loans from bankruptcy. (That bill later became law.) Under the bill that Warren and Clyburn introduced on Tuesday, borrowers could use bankruptcy proceedings to eliminate their debt.
Other Democrats running for president, including South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, have dismissed the idea of universal tuition-free public college. While Buttigieg has said he’s opposed to the idea of subsidizing education for families that can afford it, Klobuchar believes it’s not feasible to implement.
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., right, makes a pinky promise as she chats with Sydney Hansen, 8, of Oakland, Calif., during a campaign stop at town hall in Peterborough, N.H., Monday, July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)