Amid the perennial calls for a presidential race about The Issues, and even amid the cascading revelations that the incumbent is crooked, Elizabeth Warren just keeps rolling out a 2020 platform. Sure, Warren called for Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings this weekend with absolute moral clarity, which somehow earned her tunnel-vision Hot Takes from Wise Observers who suggested her campaign is now all about impeachment. As if to prove how dumb those observations were, the Massachusetts senator returned a couple days later to add to her sprawling policy suite with a sweeping plan, via The New York Times, to overhaul the American higher-education system and make it more affordable.
In addition to eliminating undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities, she would expand federal grants to help students with nontuition expenses and create a $50 billion fund to support historically black colleges and universities.
She would eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of less than $100,000; borrowers who make between $100,000 and $250,000 would have a portion of their debt forgiven.
This seems to be predicated on the notion that, in the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world, maybe kids don't need to saddle themselves with crippling debt for at least the first half of their adult lives just to get an education that will serve them in today's economy. Vocational schools have their place, but if kids want to go to college in America, it should not be some absurd fantasy that puts them 100-grand in the red.
Of course, many of the same people who scoff at making college more affordable think "millennials" are not buying houses because they blew all their cash on "avocado toast," rather than paying off the $1.5 trillion (that's right: fuckin' trillion) in student loan debt that the generation is collectively suffering under. The vast majority of this debt is held by the federal government, so a Warren government would simply cancel that debt. According to her campaign, this would "affect more than 42 million Americans and eliminate all student loan debt for more than 75 percent of borrowers." The privately held debt is trickier: Warren says her government would “work with the borrower and the owner of the debt” with the goal of eliminating it-a less concrete promise. Either way, the canceled debt would not count as income when it comes time for relieved borrowers to file their taxes.
Warren's justification for all this is very concrete indeed, however. Like her impeachment call, it shines with moral clarity. From her Medium post:
The enormous student debt burden weighing down our economy isn’t the result of laziness or irresponsibility. It’s the result of a government that has consistently put the interests of the wealthy and well-connected over the interests of working families.
Policymakers stood by as state after state pulled back on investments in public higher education and sent tuition soaring. They stood by as for-profit colleges exploded, luring in students with false promises and loading them up with debt as their executives and investors raked in billions in taxpayer dollars. They stood by as employers demanded higher credentials while offloading the cost of getting those credentials onto workers. And they stood by as corporations made huge profits off of the new skills graduates gained through higher education while giving workers almost nothing in the way of wage increases - increases policymakers falsely promised would make graduates’ debt worth it.
Warren's plan, like much of her platform, is designed to increase opportunity for everyone while acknowledging that not everybody starts the race in the same place. In addition to $50 billion for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the proposal outlines funding incentives for states whose public colleges show "improvement in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color." It would also demand public colleges complete an annual audit that identifies why they may have a shortfall in enrolling and graduating students from these backgrounds.
But wait! you might say. How can we pay for all this? Even if you grant that some share of Americans actually care about The National Debt-a constituency surely not represented by the Republican Party, who piled $2 trillion on the debt over two years where they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress-Warren believes she's got you covered. From the Times:
She would pay for it with revenue generated by her proposed increase in taxes for America’s most wealthy families and corporations, which the campaign estimates to be $2.75 trillion over 10 years.
Here's a refresher on that tax plan, also via the Times:
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic candidate for president, is expected to unveil a plan that would impose a new annual tax on the 75,000 wealthiest families in the United States...
Ms. Warren’s so-called ultramillionaire tax would levy a 2 percent annual tax on a household’s assets-including stocks, real estate and retirement funds, held either in the United States or abroad-above $50 million. It would add an additional 1 percent “billionaire surtax” on households with net worth exceeding $1 billion, a group that includes President Trump.
Basically, the plan is to take an amount these folks will scarcely notice and put it towards programs whose beneficiaries will very much goddamn notice.
But the most refreshing part of this whole thing is the radical departure from the educational regime of Betsy DeVos, who seems to believe an ideal system is one where education is purely a product for corporations to profit on and students should pad those profits by saddling themselves with extraordinary amounts of debt. DeVos has been a relentless advocate not just for charter schools, but in favor of for-profit colleges-the latter of which Warren proposes to cut all federal funding for after a transition period.
Meanwhile, DeVos spent more than a year in court fighting the implementation of Obama-era policies that "make it easier for defrauded students to get their federal loans forgiven and they also prohibit colleges from forcing students to resolve complaints through arbitration." That's part of a larger effort to roll back consumer protections for student borrowers, an effort that extended to states when they tried to fill the gap when the Department of Education completely abandoned its responsibilities. (This is the It's-Best-Left-to-the-States philosophy Republicans often make mouth noises about.) Surely, all this has nothing to do with DeVos's extensive business ties to the for-profit college and student-loan industries, which she claimed to divest from when she took office.
No, the contrasts between the current regime and what Warren is proposing for our higher education system could not be clearer. It will be up to The Media to lay out these differences by concentrating on The Issues, since that's what we're always hearing everyone wants to do. And yes, impeachment is an issue-it should just be clear by now that folks can walk and chew gum at the same time. Well, most people anyway.
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