Dems Worried Biden Student Loan Inaction Will Dampen Youth Turnout in Midterms

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  • Democratic politicians are worried that Biden’s student loan inaction will dampen youth turnout. 
  • Young voters propelled Biden to the White House, but their support for the president has slipped.
  • Advocates with ties to the White House have called on Biden to cancel at least $10,000 in debt per borrower.

Democrats are increasingly concerned that President Joe Biden’s inaction on student loan debt will cost the party at the polls this November among younger voters — one of their most reliable bases of support — as the president has so far declined to forgive up to $10,000 per borrower.

A pause on student-loan payments, with waived interest, has been in place since March 2020, and Biden extended the pause for a third time through May 2022. Biden administration officials said last month that they were considering a continuation of the freeze as the White House mull over a final plan.

However, even with an additional extension of loan payments, many of the younger voters who buoyed Biden’s successful presidential bid and helped deliver the Senate majority to Democrats after the 2020 election are looking for answers, and party leaders are growing uneasy about the uncertainty of the administration’s plans.

According to a Politico report, advocates with ties to the White House are becoming restive, emphasizing that it is becoming progressively difficult to motivate the millions of younger voters who enthusiastically turned out for Democrats in 2018 and 2020 to do the same for the 2022 midterms.

Democratic politicians are also asking the president to give the millions of borrowers who have had their loans paused several weeks of notice before finalizing a decision about a potential extension. They argue that major financial changes could create further financial instability for some borrowers, per the report.

For many advocates and Democratic politicians, the maneuvering signals a desire for Biden to utilize his executive powers to wipe out at least $10,000 in student-loan debt per borrower, which many millennial and Gen Z voters have been waiting for since the president moved into the White House in January 2021. And those same figures want the action to be taken well before voters submit their ballots this fall.

High-profile politicians including Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, have all called for Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower.

Ocasio-Cortez, one of the highest-profile millennial politicians in the US, has pressed the White House about their position for over a year, and she has been relentless in using social media platforms to advocate for cancellation.

“The case against student loan forgiveness is looking shakier by the day,” she wrote in February 2021, just weeks after Biden took office. “We’ve got the Senate Majority Leader [Schumer] on board to forgive $50k. Biden’s holding back, but many of the arguments against it just don’t hold water on close inspection.”

During Biden’s first State of the Union speech earlier this month, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out the lack of urgency on the issue during a speech that was dominated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the continuing fight against inflation. The congresswoman praised Biden for his strong support of the Ukrainian people but reiterated that he didn’t touch on core issues that younger voters were looking to hear during the speech.

“There are some things that were left unsaid that we are really going to have to work on as a party, in order to really speak to constituencies that have historically supported the president, whose turnout we need, whose support we need right now and in the coming years, that perhaps haven’t heard their issues spoken to in the way that they wanted to hear it,” she said on MSNBC after Biden’s address.

She added: “Things like student loan debt, the larger themes and crises in education, as well as the piece on immigration was really just glossed over.”

Student debt protestors

Student loan borrowers and the Too Much Talent Band thank President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for extending the student loan pause and now demand that they cancel student debt at a gathering outside the White House on January 13, 2022.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million

‘They are not doing many things that young people can actually feel’

In addition to student loans, advocates with ties to the White House worry that stalled bills that would have expanded voting rights and addressed climate change will only serve as reminders of the administration’s struggles to implement core elements of its legislative agenda.

Max Lubin, the co-founder and chief executive of Rise, Inc., a nonprofit organization that advocates for eliminating college tuition, told Politico that the president’s State of the Union address didn’t leave a lot of room policy-wise for the party’s most reliable supporters.

“The White House doesn’t seem to get that their base isn’t just old white people who want to hear ‘Fund the police,'” he told the outlet. “It’s young and racially diverse and we need student debt cancellation and climate action for young people to have a fair shot.”

In 2020, where young voters turned out in historic numbers, the voters under 30 who cast ballots overwhelmingly supported Biden over then-President Donald Trump by a 60% to 36% margin, according to Edison Research. 

However, in recent months, several major surveys have shown Biden struggling with voters in that age demographic — which, if left unaddressed, could spell trouble in closely-divided Senate and gubernatorial races in swing states like Arizona and Georgia.

In a meeting with White House officials last week, several activists told Politico that they remained unsure of the president’s path forward as it pertains to student loans. A long-promised memo that White House chief of staff Ron Klain said would detail Biden’s plans for student loan debt has not yet surfaced.

Lubin told Politico that he informed the administration that “they are not doing many things that young people can actually feel.”

He added: “And if you can’t describe to me how young people feel the impact of your executive action on equity, then I don’t really know why they would expect them to support or even understand what that policy is.”

Democratic Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia told Politico that “there are a lot of people that are still waiting” for Biden to grant an executive order that forgives student loan debt.

She continued: “We did what people told us to do: Go to college, get a good job, start a career and a family, but it’s holding us back. This is holding back generations of people.”

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