Aug 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats' student loan backlash

Rep. Tim Ryan speaks at a conference in Washington, D.C. in April. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrats running in battleground Senate and House races panned President Biden's student loan relief plan within hours of its release — a sign of fears that it could alienate swing voters in November.

Why it matters: Biden hopes to energize younger voters with the student loan forgiveness plan. But there's a risk it will give Republicans fuel for their argument that Democrats aren't focused on the issue most important to many voters: inflation.

Driving the news: Tim Ryan, the Democrats' Ohio Senate nominee, released a critical statement: "Waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet."

  • Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election this year, told Axios: "I don't agree with today's executive action because it doesn't address the root problems that make college unaffordable."
  • New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas, running in a swing district that Biden carried by six points, said in a statement: "This announcement by President Biden is no way to make policy and sidesteps Congress and our oversight and fiscal responsibilities. Any plan to address student debt should go through the legislative process, and it should be more targeted and paid for so it doesn't add to the deficit."
  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, facing a competitive race in a state Biden carried by 13 points, said the relief should have been "more targeted" and the administration should have laid out how they'll pay for it.

Between the lines: In politics, the party that's divided over an issue is more likely to be losing.

  • When it comes to Biden's student loan plan, Republican senators from Mitt Romney to Josh Hawley are united in opposition. But many Democrats facing the toughest re-election campaigns are at best lukewarm about the emerging plan.

Former Obama Treasury Secretary Larry Summers warned Monday:

Larry Summers tweet
  • Last year, Summers presciently argued that Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID spending package risked fueling inflation. He's again raising concerns about a major Biden policy priority. In both instances, Biden has listened more to progressive Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren than centrist voices in the party.

Be smart: Despite voting for Biden in large numbers, majorities of Gen Zers and younger millennials disapprove of the president's performance in recent polls even as they tend to vote for Democrats in elections.

Sophia Cai contributed reporting.

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