WASHINTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled a plan on Monday to eliminate virtually all student loan debt – about $1.6 trillion held by 45 million Americans – in the most ambitious proposal yet to address the issue from the two dozen Democrats running for president in 2020.
The plan is part of Sanders' proposal to make public universities and community colleges tuition-free. His previously unveiled College for All plan calls for the federal government to provide $47 billion a year toward tuition and for states to provide an additional $23 billion a year.
Sanders was joined by Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., when he introduced the bill at a news conference in front of the Capitol on Monday.
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To fund his massive loan forgiveness plan and public investment in higher education, the Vermont independent will push for a new tax on Wall Street.
"Our proposal, which costs $2.2 trillion over 10 years will be fully paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation similar to what exists in dozens of countries around the world," Sanders said.
"The American people bailed out Wall Street. Now it is time for Wall Street to come to the aid of the middle class of this country."
The College for all Plan outlined a "Robin Hood Tax" that would impose a 0.5% tax on stock trades, a 0.1% fee on bonds and a 0.005% fee on derivatives.
Sanders compared his proposal to the GI Bill, which paid for military servicemembers' tuition after World War II. He said that act improved the lives of millions of Americans and helped create a strong middle class.
"Student debt is not the result of bad choices or behavior," Omar said. "It is the result of a system that tells the student to get an education and go to college in order to have a stable life, but then does not provide the resources to afford that education."
Jayapal said it was time to "stop profiteering off of student loans" and "free the generations to come."
Ocasio-Cortez confessed that she had a "personal stake in this fight" because she is still burdened with student loans.
"I think it's so funny, a year ago I was waiting tables in a restaurant. And It was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt," she said.
.@AOC on bill to eliminate all student debt: "It was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt." https://t.co/l2DVQXrQic pic.twitter.com/fhxvtNtvhg— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) June 24, 2019
Sanders' proposal comes two days before the first debates of the Democratic primary begin, with 10 candidates taking the stage Wednesday night and 10 more Thursday night in Miami. Sanders is scheduled to take part in the second slate of candidates.
The plan goes further than one put forward by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in April. Warren, who also is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, proposed canceling $50,000 in student loan debt for those with a household income of less than $100,000. People who make more than $100,000 would see a staggered reduction in their debt, with those making more than $250,000 being ineligible for loan forgiveness.
Warren also proposed making public universities and community colleges tuition-free. She plans to pay for it with an "Ultra-Millionaire Tax – a 2% annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth."
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released last week found that education and taxes ranked fifth and sixth as the top issues that Democratic voters want to hear the candidates discuss. Health care was the top issue for one out of five Democratic voters, followed by immigration, the economy, and climate change.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bernie Sanders unveils plan to forgive $1.6 trillion in student loan debt