Every day that passes without President Joe Biden taking action on student debt relief is another day lost in the fight to save Democratic majorities in Congress this fall.
Not to rub salt in the wounds, but Biden's job approvals need a rapid intervention STAT. Additionally, according to FiveThirtyEight’s generic ballot aggregate, congressional Republicans are currently besting Democrats by a couple points. Democrats are going to have to turn that deficit around and then some before fall.
Frankly, President Biden doesn't have many issues on which he can take unilateral action without piddling away precious months begging two Democratic killjoy senators from Arizona and West Virginia to help him save democracy. Student debt relief happens to be one issue on which the president can take action alone, and it's growing more urgent by the day that he do so.
According to new polling from Navigator Research, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) support canceling "a portion of federal student loan borrowers' debt.”
That's a lot of baseline support for starters. But perhaps even more importantly, people of color are extremely supportive of the statement, with 87% of Black Americans favoring some cancellation along with 72% of Latino Americans—demographics that both carry greater debt burdens and are most impacted by it.
Those numbers track very closely with findings from a Civiqs survey last year in which 83% of Black voters and 69% of Latino voters said they supported the Biden administration canceling $50,000 in federal student loan debt.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Over the past year, Biden's job approvals with the group have slipped by double digits. Student debt relief is an issue that clearly matters to people of color as well as young voters aged 18 to 29—some 60% of whom voted for Biden.
Earlier this month, Navigator released the results of several focus groups it conducted with Black voters in Michigan, Georgia, and Texas and found that they wanted to see Biden take "more aggressive action" as president. Student loan debt was one of their top issues.
Part of that desire stems from the fact that Biden campaigned on the issue. "We should forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans," Biden tweeted on March 22, 2020, just days after he cemented the Democratic nomination by sweeping primaries in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona.
"Young people and other student debt holders bore the brunt of the last crisis,” he said. “It shouldn't happen again.”
Black participants in the Navigator focus group wondered what happened to that promise specifically.
“Biden ran on getting rid of student loan debt. So just curious to see what's going to happen on that," said one Michigan man.
A man in Georgia expressed frustration, saying, “I really wish he was like putting his foot on student loans because that was his biggest thing on his campaign.”
Navigator's polling also found that the perception of whether Biden has kept his campaign promises would improve by 11 points among voters with student loan debt if the president canceled a portion of it. Biden also gained 10 points with white voters and seven points with Democrats by hypothetically taking action on canceling student loan debt.
Look, folks, this is a problem—a campaign promise made but not kept. And worse yet, the White House is hiding from it. It has basically buried a memo on the president's legal authority, most likely because some White House aides don't like what it says: that Biden probably does have the authority to act unilaterally.
On the bright side, this isn't a problem without a solution. The president can still make good on his promise and reinforce for an extremely important generation of voters that when they vote for Democrats, Democrats deliver on their promises.
If Biden doesn’t act, however, and the administration insists on facilitating a "smooth transition" back to repayment, then he will become the Democratic president who restarted loan payments amid a pandemic after his Republican predecessor stopped them. Currently, federal student loan payments are set to resume on May 1.
It's really hard to overstate what a tragic mistake that would be—both politically for Democrats and for a juggernaut of generation trying desperately to get their economic footing. As Biden himself tweeted, young people bore the brunt of the last crisis, and they shouldn’t have do it again in the pandemic. And yet they are coming of age in a country where affording a home, children, and child care—not to mention rent and basic household goods—is an incredible stretch if not entirely out of reach.
President Biden must take action—for the well-being of those young people, the health of the economy, and the future of the republic. The president simply cannot turn his back on a campaign promise he made to a generation of young people and then expect them to show up for Democrats in November.
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