President Joe Biden’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education would cancel $10,000 to $20,000 in student debt for millions of people was good news to many who took out federal loans to go to school. Some thought it should have gone further, given the sky-high price of a college education in the U.S.
The most high-profile conservatives in the country, however, reacted with near-uniform indignation at the prospect of helping people dig out from under mountains of debt.
Biden’s plan helps people who earn less than $125,000 per year; the White House says that 90% of relief dollars will go to people earning under $75,000 per year, targeting middle-income and low-income workers. Other measures include reducing monthly payments for undergraduate loans by half so it’s easier to make rent and cover living expenses.
There is debate over whether the plan will make inflation worse, although the White House argues that it will amount to a wash when you take into account student loan payments set to resume in January.
But much of the right-wing reaction to student debt forgiveness rests on the very concept of allocating public resources to middle-income people who opted for college.
To Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whose wealthy parents named him after the founder of the Marriott Corporation because he was a close family friend, Biden’s plan is “unfair to those who paid their own way.”
“Sad to see what’s being done to bribe voters,” Romney said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who orchestrated a tax reform package in 2017 that reserved its biggest benefits for the ultra-rich, called the plan “a wildly unfair redistribution of wealth toward higher-earning people.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who used his position in Congress to egg on rioters wishing to overturn the results of the 2020 election in favor of former President Donald Trump, said Biden was “abusing his power.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who reportedly attended college on a wrestling scholarship, said Biden was forgetting about “Real America,” which apparently does not include anyone who works in a profession involving a degree.
Proponents of the plan say that while imperfect, it will help address the rising cost of college. Tuition prices have ballooned over the last 40 years ― nearly five times the rate of inflation, according to one report. There is some evidence that the job market is changing how it views a four-year degree, but one nonprofit found that 44% of online job listings still required one.
On conservative media, the debt relief was reliably painted as a handout for out-of-touch liberals. Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson bizarrely told his audience that the plan amounted to “reparations” for turning people “into Xanax-addicted robots with no job prospects.” Hosts on “Fox & Friends” were similarly outraged that taxpayers will help cover the cost of others’ educations because of what they might choose to study. Sean Hannity appeared genuinely miffed that the young people who worked on his show might get $10,000 or $20,000 knocked off their loan bills.
Observers on Twitter were quick to point out another shade of hypocrisy in the right’s reaction to the student debt forgiveness plan: the complaints from conservative business owners whose loans from the federal government were forgiven during the pandemic.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), for example, called the debt forgiveness plan “completely unfair” despite the fact that her family’s construction company received $183,504 in loans two years ago as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which did not have to be paid back.
A shipping company owned by the family of McConnell’s wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, received between $350,000 and $1 million through the program.
The JRW Corporation, owned by Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) had $1,432,400 in loans forgiven. Companies owned by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) received between $800,000 and $1.9 million in PPP loans.
The White House used its official Twitter account to post several more examples in a series of tweets, naming Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), among others.
Yet Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee felt comfortable issuing the following edict via Twitter: “If you take out a loan, you pay it back. Period.”