It has now been seven months in the Biden administration. During the election campaign, Senator Chuck Schumer, now so-called Senate leader, spoke about how it is legal for the president to cancel student debt. He and Senator Elizabeth Warren have drafted a resolution calling on President-elect Biden to do so on day one.
That didn’t happen, as you know. Presumably, this appeal was not just a cynical means of gathering votes for Biden and other Democrats.
Coalitions such as American for Financial Reform, a broad coalition of labor and community organizations, show the damaging economic impact of the debt crisis on workers and explain how the president has the power to cancel it.
So far, President Biden has used that authority to forgive the debts of several thousand alumni who borrowed money to attend classes with organizations that turned out to be scams. You know, like Trump University.
On Wednesday, July 28, yes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came out and rejected the president’s power to do this at all. It must be “an act of Congress,” a statement that practically positions the issue as a non-starter.
Pelosi said, “Suppose your child has just decided not to go to college right now, but you pay taxes to forgive someone else’s obligations. You may not be happy about that.”
Pelosi’s shocking withdrawal from right-wing discussion points is an open appeal to white supremacy. First, in American political rhetoric, an appeal to taxpayers’ fairness is an irreparable discourse about white people. To portray her opposition to forgiving student loans as unfair to white people who pay taxes is standard white nationalist talk straight out of the Trump, Bush, and Reagan script.
It is also a huge distortion of reality. Not only is the president in power – unless Schumer is a liar – but it is the working class that is most subject to student debt.
The timing of the statement is particularly troubling, as it signals the Democratic Party’s intent to scrap even the possibility of a large-scale student loan waiver from its agenda.
If people benefit from student loan forgiveness, it would be morally different from a system designed to help the wealthy who have multiple ways to dodge their fair share of taxes. It would be far more equitable than massive injections of public investment for private contracts to already powerful companies. It would be far more equitable than a massively inflated military budget that funds interventions, wars, occupations and general human rights abuses.
To call student loans themselves an advantage is laughable. Inflated war budgets, unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, and shameful cuts to social programs coincided with massive cuts in education funding and profit-based student loan schemes that pushed tuition rates up astronomically.
And while the US ruling class likes to pretend to live in an innovative society that depends on a high level of education to keep growing, it doesn’t fund education programs in the way it means.
Working class people are caught in the trap between access to higher education, the main avenue for social mobility (if any), and direct access to the labor market without specialized training or qualifications.
Black, Latinx and native working class students are forced to borrow at much higher rates than their white counterparts. They end up paying far more than tuition for their education, even compared to white working-class students. According to Demos, students of color have to borrow thousands of dollars more than white students.
To be sure, the cancellation of student loans would benefit about 4 or 5 million black, latinx, indigenous and other students of color. And those 4 or 5 million workers would also bear some of the cost of that, but it would be much more reasonable.
Invoking a fantasy about fairness to taxpayers is deeply rooted in the right-wing tradition of attacking black-and-brown people in defense of an elite agenda of supporting financial capital. That is the central plank of the Republican Party platform.
Pelosi could make the same argument about welfare, about highways, about public transportation, the post office, Obamacare, about public schools. She could say it about any form of public investment in cultural, social or economic infrastructure.
It is frustrating for working class people to see the leaders they have elected, who should be their allies, making right-wing arguments about policies that protect the working class.
Are Democratic Party leaders indicating that they are trading the really urgent working class struggle for voting rights protection, a raise in the minimum wage, a wealth tax on billionaires, union rights and police reforms for a vote or two on Biden’s infrastructure agenda?
The working class did not allow such a surrender. It is time for the Democratic Party to prioritize the working class. Cancel student debt. Pass the PRO law. Increase the pay. Protect the right to vote.