- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday announced a $750 billion higher education plan that envisions two years of free community college and student debt forgiveness for more Americans, as he tried to keep up with the leftward march of the Democratic Party.

Though not as expansive as the higher education freebies offered by his far-left rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, the Biden campaign said the overall package is just as good.

“What you have here is, I think, a plan that is as ambitious as any plan in this race, but for the broadest number of people,” Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, said on CNN.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, two of Mr. Biden’s top rivals, proposed plans for tuition-free public colleges and forgiveness of most current student debt.

Mr. Biden and his wife Jill, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, wanted to put forward a plan that is both “progressive” and “achievable,” Ms. Bedingfield said.



“The most important thing to them was making sure that the largest number of people have access to a middle-class life,” she said. “And yes, a four-year college is an important piece of that, but so is access to community college, so is access to high-quality training programs.”

The plan envisions a federal-state partnership to provide free community college or training for two years to anyone, including young illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

Mr. Biden also wants to create a new program that would provide $10,000 of student debt relief for every year that someone participates in national or community service for up to five years.

And he would eliminate federal student loan payments and interest for people who make $25,000 or less per year, and cap student loan payments at 5% of discretionary income above $25,000, down from the current 10% for recent loans.

The Biden campaign released the plan as he fights to maintain his front-runner status amid Ms. Warren’s rise in the polls and Mr. Sanders’ pace-setting third-quarter fundraising haul, and as he fends off a rough stretch of news coverage surrounding his son Hunter Biden’s business ties in Ukraine and China.

Ms. Bedingfield tried to differentiate Mr. Biden’s proposal by saying it targets the benefits toward people who “need it the most.”

Mr. Sanders, in contrast, envisions eliminating all of the estimated $1.6 trillion in student debt in the country, irrespective of a borrower’s income.

Under Ms. Warren’s plan, people making less than $100,000 per year could receive $50,000 in student loan debt cancellation, while people with a household income of more than $250,000 per year would not qualify for any benefits. Both candidates also want to eliminate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities.

The Sanders campaign estimated that his proposal to cancel student debt and eliminate tuition at four-year public colleges would cost $2.2 trillion, while the Warren campaign said her higher education plan would cost $1.25 trillion.

Tamara Hiler, who studies education issues at Third Way, a center-left think tank, agreed that Mr. Biden’s plan is targeted to lower-income students, pointing to other pieces such as allowing students to use the funding for non-tuition expenses and pushing for an emergency grant program to help students who face unexpected expenses that threaten their enrollment.

“This is a much more realistic and practical approach to talking about higher education affordability issues,” Ms. Hiler said. “Because we know that actually saying hey, let’s double down on our investment in the Pell grant program — that’s a much better starting point to have conversations in Congress than saying let’s forgive all debt and make college free for everybody.”

Mr. Biden’s plan also doubles the maximum value of Pell grants and includes a more than $70 billion investment in historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), said Mr. Biden’s proposal isn’t bold enough to adequately address the student debt crisis in the country.

“But when Joe Biden is proposing $750 billion — an exponential increase in scale compared to what candidates offered the last time he ran for president — that shows the center of gravity is moving dramatically in the national conversation and progressives are winning,” said Mr. Green, whose group has endorsed Ms. Warren in the race.

Charles Chamberlain, a top official with the liberal group Democracy for America, said the plan stands in contrast to Mr. Biden’s own statement as vice president in 2015 calling for 16 years of free public education for children.

“Even Biden in 2015 knew he needed to go bigger to confront what has become a crisis than Biden of 2020 does,” Mr. Chamberlain said. “So I don’t know if he’s just confused or doesn’t remember what he proposed before.”

To pay for the plan, Mr. Biden’s campaign said the “superwealthy” will pay their “fair share” — echoing rhetoric from Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders — through changing how inheritances are taxed and capping itemized deductions for upper-income earners.

Ms. Warren has pointed to her 2% tax on assets of more than $50 billion as a prime way to pay for her policy priorities, while Mr. Sanders has suggested new taxes as well, including on Wall Street transactions.

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