When President Joe Biden revealed yesterday that he intends to forgive up to $20,000 of student debt for millions of Americans, many progressive politicians and groups were quick to express their support. But in New Jersey’s two most competitive congressional districts, the 3rd and the 7th, both the incumbent Democratic congressmember and their Republican opponent are skeptical of Biden’s plan.
The Republican criticism is perhaps more to be expected. Since Biden’s plan was unveiled – and long, long before then – conservatives have pilloried student loan forgiveness as a handout to the wealthy and an insult to those who have already paid off their own debt.
“The proposal is forecasted to cost between $300-$980 billion, paid for by the middle class, with most of the benefits going to the top 60% earners,” former Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), the Republican nominee in the 7th district, said yesterday. “Here’s the reality: debt doesn’t go away, the burden simply gets shifted to someone or somewhere else.”
“Asking hardworking taxpayers who sacrificed and saved to pay off their loans – or the nearly 60% of New Jersey residents who never went to college – to shoulder the burden of this likely illegal vote-buying scheme … is wrong and I oppose it,” 3rd district nominee Bob Healey concurred.
In their respective statements, the two Republicans effectively dared their Democratic opponents to oppose the plan; Healey said he “won’t hold [his] breath” waiting for Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) to stand up against Biden. But perhaps to their surprise, both Kim and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) have responded that they don’t support directly canceling student debt the way Biden intends to do.
“I’ve never supported canceling student debt with taxpayer funds,” Malinowski said yesterday on Twitter. “I strongly support more generous income based repayment and attacking outrageous predatory interest rates that trap young people in endless debt even if they make their payments.”
(A spokesperson for Malinowski clarified today that while the congressman opposes one-time debt cancellation, he does support a related Biden proposal to cap debt payments at 5% of income.)
Kim agreed that attacking “absurdly high interest rates” would have been a better approach, and that one-time debt forgiveness isn’t an ideal solution.
“Student loan debt is an enormous problem facing millions of people, but this executive action doesn’t get at addressing the heart of the problem,” he said. “Yes we can lend a hand to those really struggling, just like we helped out by forgiving loans to small businesses in distress, but … any forgiveness should be reserved for those most in need.”
The lukewarm reaction from Kim and Malinowski, which stands in contrast to enthusiastic statements of support from New Jersey Democrats in safer districts, is a sign that Democrats think support for debt forgiveness is a potential liability this November. An NPR/Ipsos poll from June found that 55% of Americans support up to $10,000 of student debt relief, but support goes down the higher the proposed amount.
As Malinowski conceded in tweet form, debt cancellation is an issue that engenders strong feelings among many people, and there’s no one simple solution.
“This is a complicated issue, and there will be legitimate criticism of Biden’s move, as well as many Americans who will welcome it,” he said.