Student debt cancellation advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) ridiculed Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday after the Republican said that government benefits like loan forgiveness are tantamount to a “bribe.”
After news circulated that President Joe Biden is exploring options to cancel student debt without Congress on Wednesday, Romney wrote, “Desperate polls call for desperate measures: Dems consider forgiving trillions in student loans. Other bribe suggestions: Forgive auto loans? Forgive credit card debt? Forgive mortgages? And put a wealth tax on the super-rich to pay for it all. What could possibly go wrong?”
In response, Sanders, who favors canceling all student debt, pointed out that Romney’s view on student loans isn’t consistent with his views on government funding for corporations and the wealthy.
“Mr. Romney supports ‘bribes’ in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy and billions in welfare for corporations, but is shocked by the idea that working Americans might get help paying off student debt,” Sanders tweeted. “I know he thinks corporations are people, but does he know people are people?”
Political commentators also criticized Romney’s post, pointing out that Romney supported the huge bailouts that were provided to corporations and banks in 2008 with little accountability. Romney has personally benefited from such corporate bailouts, to the tune of millions of dollars; for instance, he profited from the bailout of Bain Capital as Bain skimmed money from workers’ pension funds.
Romney’s argument that wealthy Americans shouldn’t have to face a tax to cover debtors’ student loans is also disingenuous. To justify their opposition to canceling student debt, conservatives often cite their supposed concerns over the federal deficit or government spending, but economists have found that the vast benefits from student debt cancellation would outweigh the limited impact that such an action would have on the deficit and inflation.
The Utah Republican’s tweet also seemed to suggest that student debt cancellation is simply a last-ditch effort by Democrats to gain voters’ favor before the election, despite the fact that action on student debt is popular and would materially benefit millions of Americans’ lives — and as though Republicans aren’t actively trying to restrict voting and undermine elections across the country.
While conservatives oppose student loan forgiveness outright, Biden has hesitated to act on the issue and appeared to dampen expectations on his plans to cancel debt on Thursday.
In spite of reports that the president is considering canceling a substantial amount of debt, Biden said that canceling $50,000 of debt is not on the table. “I am considering dealing with some debt reduction. I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction,” he said, adding that he will be announcing a plan within the “next couple of weeks.”
Some advocates are hopeful that Biden will cancel more than $50,000 per debtor, though that seems unlikely.
It’s unclear what amount of student loans Biden is considering forgiving, and whether forgiveness will be universal across all debtors. His administration has flip flopped on the issue, and he pledged on the campaign trail that he would only cancel up to $10,000 for each borrower.
Debt activists say that $10,000 is not enough to help borrowers who are the most in need and point out that that amount could easily come back in interest over time.
Biden has heeded progressives’ advice on student debt before. When he extended the payment pause earlier this month, he also wiped out the default status of over 7 million borrowers, in order to give them a “fresh start” when payments restart. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), both advocates of student debt cancellation, had urged his administration to move borrowers out of default in a letter last year.