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Dems inciting resentment over student loan forgiveness is unforgivably cowardly

The White House says 90% of those whose students loans will be forgiven make less than $75,000.
Photo illustration: Blue and red dots over a photo split showing Joe Biden and backs of students sitting with graduation caps.
President Joe Biden’s forgiving up to $20,000 in student loans for people making up to $125,000 embodies the Democrats’ perpetual fence straddle, in that it tries to please their voters by giving them something and please Republicans by not giving them too much.MSNBC / Getty Images

At this point there’s no disputing that Democrats spend about as much time appealing to Republicans as they spend trying to please those who actually voted for them.

Democrats’ trying to please Republicans is an even more dangerous game than it typically is.

President Joe Biden’s forgiving up to $20,000 in student loans for people making up to $125,000 embodies the Democrats’ perpetual fence straddle, in that it tries to please their voters by giving them something and please Republicans by not giving them too much. And means-testing beneficiaries on top of that.

Democrats’ trying to please Republicans now is an even more dangerous game than it typically is, given that all of the GOP’s policies have been replaced with the politics of resentment. But that’s the game Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democrat running to represent Ohio in the Senate, has decided to play. After Biden’s announcement last week, Ryan said in a statement that he’s “paying off my own family’s student loans” and that “waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet."

Ryan isn’t the only one making that argument. Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada disagreed with Biden’s executive order and said the U.S. should “target loan forgiveness to those in need and actually make college more affordable for working families.”

The argument that people with student loan debt are “on a trajectory to financial security” and aren’t in need of relief is specious, given that so many see such debt as the biggest obstacle to their financial security. It’s equally problematic to argue, as Ryan does, that forgiveness will offend people without college degrees, given that almost half the people with less than $10,000 in student loan debt never got four-year degrees in the first place. The White House says one-third of all borrowers have the debt to show they went to college but no degree that says they did.

The income limit of those who are eligible is also a bit misleading, because, according to the White House, “nearly 90% of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000 a year.”

There definitely are many people who are doing well despite having or having had student loan debt, but it’s particularly outrageous for Democrats (no matter the college completion rates in their states) to be ginning up resentment against those eligible for this aid. It does little more than pour additional fuel on the flames of resentment that Republicans are already stoking higher and higher.

Consider the absurdity of this political moment. For at least a generation, whenever Democrats have proposed to make life easier on the middle class by increasing taxes on the wealthiest, Republicans have accused them of waging “class warfare” and of unfairly prompting people who are less well-off to resent others’ success. There is no definition of who is a wealthy American or even who is a rich one. But before now, neither party has defined the rich or the wealthy as people with debt making $125,000.

As candidate and later as president, Joe Biden promised he wouldn’t raise taxes on anybody making less than $400,000, which suggests that only those making more are rich. But Republicans, and regrettably some Democrats, now argue that forgiving $10,000 for people making less than $125,000 and $20,000 for those who had “exceptional financial need” as undergraduates is a reverse Robin Hood maneuver that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

Republicans, and regrettably some Democrats, argue that forgiving $10,000 is a reverse Robin Hood maneuver.

The irony, of course, is that it’s the Republican way to do just that. How many programs for the poor can no longer be funded, how much of the expense of college has been shifted to struggling families (causing them to need loans) because Republicans in Washington and in state legislatures rallied for tax relief for the rich? Cortez Masto is right that college should be more affordable, but making it more affordable wouldn’t help those who are paying the costs of Republicans' budgets that made college more expensive in the first place.

If Republicans once again gain control of Washington, you can count on them to look for multiple ways to make the lives of wealthy people easier, ways that would make the lives of struggling Americans more difficult and, given the trend, ways that would push the cost of a college education even higher. And what will Democrats who jumped on the Republican pile and argued against debt relief for student loans say then? That the Republicans are thwarting people’s chances of upward mobility?

That’s what these Democrats are doing now. In hope of winning over uncharitable voters who resent others’ getting help, they are parroting Republican talking points. But if you’ve got to talk like a Republican to win as a Democrat, then that’s a loss for those voters who actually support the party.