Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jaypal and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled a sweeping proposal on Monday that would cancel all $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt in America, erasing a burden held by some 45 million Americans. It’s one of the best ideas anyone in the Democratic Party has had in a very long time.
According to the Washington Post, which published a detailed account of the plan on Sunday, the Sanders presidential campaign proposes to pay for the debt jubilee through a Wall Street transactions tax. According to draft legislation reviewed by Splinter of the bill Omar will introduce in the House of Representatives, Omar’s bill would authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase the student debt and forgive borrowers across the country.
The Post reported that several high-profile members of Congress have already signed onto the plan, including Reps. Barbara Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spoke at the press conference today unveiling the plan.
The plan follows other, similar proposals to relieve borrowers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s means-tested plan for debt relief. Removing the $1.6 trillion in student debt from tens of millions of people, however, would effectively be a stimulus that’s twice as large as the one pushed by the Obama administration and passed by Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Eliminating the hundreds of dollars that millions of people (including myself) have to pay companies like Navient every month is more money that people burdened by student debt have to say, save money for a house, or inject into the economy overall.
Anticipating the same tired arguments that we’ve heard about free college tuition proposals—that it would, in effect, be giving a handout to rich kids—Omar and Sanders insisted that the universal nature of the plan was an asset, not a hinderance.
They’re right. On average, black and Latinx students graduate with more debt than their white counterparts, and soaring college costs are a barrier to a higher education for working class people.
As Alexis Goldstein noted for Truthout, Omar’s bill isn’t the first to advocate for eliminating all student debt; in the last Congress, former Rep. Jared Polis—who is now Colorado’s governor—proposed doing the same and paying for it by repealing the Republican tax cut. But Omar’s proposal comes at a time when Democrats control the House and as literal dozens of Democrats are running for president against Donald Trump, meaning it’s sure to be a prominent proposal we’ll hear about over the next year or so.
Let’s just hope other Democrats don’t do what they usually do and try to deflate it before it gets off the ground.