GOP sends mixed messages in criticism of Biden student loan forgiveness plan

Republicans are sending mixed messages in their criticism of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, with some saying it’s a handout for the rich while others say it will hurt military enlistments by taking away a recruiting tool typically aimed at lower-income Americans.

Last week, 22 Republican governors asked Biden to withdraw his plan to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers making up to $125,000 and up to $20,000 for borrowers who took out Pell Grants, which generally go to low-income families. Biden announced the plan in August, fulfilling one of his 2020 campaign promises after pressure from a number of prominent Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Shifting the burden of debt from the wealthy to working Americans has a regressive impact that harms lower income families,” read the governors’ letter dated Sept. 12, echoing earlier criticism that the plan was a handout to the wealthy despite the income caps and the forgiveness for millions of Americans who accrued college debt without receiving their degree.

A mock check held by Florida Sen. Rick Scott reads: Biden’s Reckless Student Loan Bailout.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., holds a mock check that reads, “Biden’s Reckless Student Loan Bailout” at a news conference at the Capitol on Sept. 7. (Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Simply put, your plan rewards the rich and punishes the poor,” said the 22 governors, who added that Biden, as president, “[lacks] the authority to wield unilateral action to usher in a sweeping student loan cancellation plan.” Some GOP officials have suggested that they might challenge the law in court.

Three days later, 19 Republican House members sent a letter to Biden expressing their “concerns about the unintended consequences” of his plan, noting the military’s current struggles with meeting their recruiting goals and writing, “The idea that the military will pay for schooling during or after completion of a service obligation is a driving factor in many individuals’ decision to join one of the services.”

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., posted a Marine Corps Times story about the letter to his Twitter account Monday with the message, “My House colleagues and I are very concerned that the deeply flawed and unfair policy of blanket student loan forgiveness will also weaken our most powerful recruiting tool at the precise moment we are experiencing a crisis in military recruiting.” Bacon, who represents the Omaha area, is in a competitive reelection battle this fall.

This follows comments made by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., shortly after Biden’s announcement in August, when he tweeted, “Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military's greatest recruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments.”

Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, right, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California at a press conference.
Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, right, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California at a press conference on Capitol Hill in June. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

A 2020 youth poll conducted by the Pentagon found that 52% of respondents said they would consider joining the military to pay for their future education, a reason that was second only to pay. Military service also counts toward the Public Student Loan Forgiveness plan. The American military has been all-volunteer since the end of the draft in 1973, meaning the military relies on recruitment, which can focus on marginalized communities and the children of veterans.

A 2015 Education Week report found that recruiters were 10 times more likely to visit a high school in Connecticut where nearly half the students were on free or reduced lunches than they were to visit a similar-size high school in the area where only 5% of students qualified for the assistance.

According to an April report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, canceling $10,000 per borrower “would forgive a total of $321 billion of federal student loans, eliminate the entire balance for 11.8 million borrowers (31.1 percent), and cancel 30.5 percent of loans delinquent or in default” as of spring 2020. An analysis from Goldman Sachs found that the forgiveness is likely to have minimal impact on spending and inflation, as student loan payments — paused since March 2020 — are set to resume at the beginning of next year following one last extension of the moratorium from Biden.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll taken earlier this month found that nearly half of respondents — 48% — said they backed the White House plan versus 34% who oppose it. Support was particularly strong among Black respondents, those ages 18-29 and those who have student loan debt. A recent Fox News poll found similar results, with 54% supporting the plan versus 43% in opposition.