September 14, 2022

ICYMI: On Senate Floor, Warren Stops Republican Attempt to Block Student Loan Cancellation for Working People

Washington, D.C. In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) objected to the Republican Party’s shameful attempt to keep working Americans buried under mountains of student debt. Senator Warren celebrates President Biden’s decision to cancel up to $20,000 of federal student debt for as many as 43 million Americans with incomes under $125,000 as a historic step to deliver life-changing relief to working families and help rebuild the middle class.

Watch Senator Warren’s full remarks HERE:

Mr. President, reserving the right to object. This is a shameful attempt by Republicans to keep working Americans buried under mountains of student debt. 

President Biden’s decision to cancel up to $20,000 of federal student debt for as many as 43 million Americans with incomes under $125,000 a year is an historic step to deliver life-changing relief to working families and to help rebuild the middle class. 

Senator Scott’s bill is just one of Republicans’ desperate efforts to block cancellation for millions of Americans. Now, Republicans are happy to pass out tax breaks and regulatory loopholes for billionaires and giant corporations, but they are fighting tooth and nail to keep working families from getting a penny of relief.  

Evidently Senator Scott believes that $2 trillion in Republican tax cuts that were not paid for is fine so long as those tax cuts are aimed mostly at millionaires, billionaires, and giant corporations. But a program that costs a fraction as much and for which 90% of its benefits go to people earning less than $75,000 a year is now somehow a moral outrage.  

Today he claims to worry about those taxpayers who he says will shoulder student loan cancellation, but where was Senator Scott (or then Governor Scott) when Donald Trump and the Congressional Republicans handed out $2 trillion in tax breaks to billionaires and giant corporations—not a penny of which were paid for?  Where was he then?  Well, he endorsed the Trump Administration’s plan to cut taxes for corporations and he celebrated those tax breaks for the richest among us. He wasn’t worried about how taxpayers would pay that off, not a word about the fairness for all the people who would bear that burden—so long as the benefits went to the rich and the powerful.  

Senator Scott has basically laid it all out there for America to see, and that difference—helping billionaires or helping working families— and that difference pretty much sums up Republican and Democratic differences across the board.  If we’re cutting a break for the rich and the powerful, Republicans in Congress are on board.  If we’re trying to help out working people, Congressional Republicans take to their fainting couches and claim to be soooo worried about the national debt.

Student loan cancellation is very popular in America, including with a majority of people who have no student loan debt. And that’s because there is scarcely a working person anywhere in America today that does not know someone who has been choking on student debt.

But Republicans, evidently the Republicans in Congress, live in bubbles that prevent them from meeting any of the millions of people out there who busted their tails, who worked multiple jobs, who made their payments and who still watched their debt loads continue to climb.

So let me just set the record straight here. 

I want to repeat an earlier point: nearly 90% of relief dollars from President Biden’s cancellation will go to Americans earning less than $75,000 a year.  And none—none—of the help goes to people making more than $125,000 a year.

Now actually, those numbers shouldn’t be shocking: think about who owes student debt. Senator Scott talks about Harvard multiple times in his speech. But it’s not wealthy people who go to Ivy League schools who end up with the student loan debt. It’s middle- and working-class Americans who were born into families who couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket.

In fact, 99.7% of borrowers did not attend an Ivy League school. At the University of Florida – this would happen to be, what, three tenths of one percent of people who went to Ivy League schools borrowed money. By comparison – I just looked it up while the Senator was speaking – at the University of Florida, 15% have to borrow in order to make it through to graduation. At Florida State, 26% – that's one in every four people at Florida State has to take out money in order to be in college. And at Florida A&M, the numbers are even higher – 68%, more than two-thirds of the people who are in school, have to take out money in order to make it through college. And this is true across the country. At state schools, about half of all students have to borrow to make it through. At Historically Black colleges and Universities, the number is about 90%.

So let’s be really clear about who exactly Congressional Republicans are trying to take relief away from. It’s not Ivy League doctors and lawyers. Who are the people that Senate Republicans say aren’t worthy of the kind of help that billionaires and giant corporations could get in their big tax package?  Who do Senate Republicans think should be squeezed harder?  Who do Senate Republicans say should simply be left behind?

Well, Senate Republicans want to leave behind the 42% of borrowers who do not even have a four-year college diploma. These are folks who took out money, loans in order to become a nurse’s aide, to become a mechanic, to go to beauty school, to get their commercial driver’s license to drive a truck. And too often, the wages that they were promised never materialized. Senate Republicans say let them struggle, leave them behind. 

So who gets the most help under President Biden’s debt cancellation? Senator Scott said, this is all about doctors and lawyers. Let's take a look at that. The share of student loan borrowers who earned a cosmetology certificate is about double the share of borrowers who got professional degrees in law and medicine combined. Senate Republicans say let those cosmetology certificate holders struggle. Leave them behind.

Similarly, there are more student loan borrowers who took out debt to earn a certificate for driving trucks and working on the railroad than those who did so to become dentists and optometrists. Senate Republicans say let those truck drivers and railroad workers struggle. Leave them behind.

And it’s not just people who have two-year degrees or certificates who get help under President Biden’s cancellation. It’s people who don’t have any degree at all. These are people who did everything our country asked them to do by graduating from high school and advancing their education. But life happened, they got pregnant, or had to take care of a sick family member, and they had to leave before finishing their degree. Senate Republicans say let them struggle. Leave them behind.

Who gets help? It’s women, who hold nearly 2/3 of all outstanding student loan debt. Black women, in particular, shoulder a disproportionate amount of the student debt burden. Black women who hold more debt than any other group. Senate Republicans say let them struggle. Leave them behind.

Who gets help? It’s Black Americans, who borrow more money to go to college, borrow more money in college, and have a harder time paying it off after college. They are the ones who will see their debt eliminated under President Biden’s cancellation plan.  Senate Republicans say let them struggle. Leave them behind.

Who gets help? It’s the 50% of Latino borrowers with debt who will see their student loan debt completely eliminated. Senate Republicans say let them struggle. Leave them behind.

Who gets help? It’s the millions of people who couldn’t save for retirement, or buy their first home, or start a family because of student debt.  Senate Republicans say let them struggle. Leave them behind.

We’re living in a moment when the President of the United States has reached out, literally, to tens of millions of families, and said, I’m putting government on your side.

But the Congressional Republicans are determined to make this country work even better for the rich and the powerful — and that’s why they’re trying to pass the bill that Senator Scott has advanced. These Republicans are all for giving handouts to giant corporations and billionaires, but the minute – the minute – that our country creates a little breathing room for the millions of hard-working people whose biggest sin is they tried to get an education and they grew up in a family that just couldn’t afford to pay for it, those Senate Republicans are right here on the Senate floor trying to undo it.

So I want to take a minute and look at the bigger picture, to see how we got here. 

We have a student debt crisis because our government stopped investing in higher education and began shifting the cost of college onto working families.

I went to a great public university that cost $50 a semester — a price I could pay on a part-time waitressing job. 

I got to become a teacher and a law school professor, a United States senator because higher education opened a million doors for a kid like me. But that opportunity no longer exists in America.  

Today college costs thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. 

And instead of investing taxpayer dollars to bring down those costs, the state governments reduced their financial support and the federal government told everyone to borrow the money they needed to cover the rising costs of going to school.

And that has left millions of people drowning in student loan debt.

What’s worse? Families have had to navigate a broken student loan system riddled with bad actors who were trying to take advantage of and profit off keeping them in debt. During the Trump years, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, threw in with the for-profit schools, and when students who had been cheated asked for some help, she turned her back.  

I have long pushed for more accountability and more oversight to bring down the cost of college and to make higher education and training programs more accessible. I have a plan for that—in fact, I have more than one plan for that and I welcome any Republican to join me in helping make any of these options reality.

But cancellation is the first step to fixing a broken student loan system and to delivering relief to families that have been trapped in it for too long.

One final point: the President’s plan to cancel student debt will make a huge difference for tens of millions of Americans in their day-to-day lives.  But it will do so much more.  Debt cancellation is about strengthening our whole economy.  

Better educated workers make us a wealthier nation and one with more opportunity, not just for those at the top, but more opportunity for everyone. 

Just consider one example: Following World War II, a grateful nation said to returning GIs that taxpayers would pick up the cost of college and technical training.  

More than 2 million veterans went to college or graduate school, and nearly 6 million used this opportunity to pursue vocational training to become construction workers, electricians, mechanics, and other careers. Together these men—and they nearly all were men—built America’s middle class.  

Taxpayer investments in post-high school education meant that millions of people were better educated and they helped fuel an economic boom that lasted for decades and lifted this entire nation.  And it was a bargain: every dollar that was spent on educating our veterans generated seven dollars to taxpayers—and that’s not even accounting for the significant boost to productivity from a more educated population.  Just think about that. A seven-to-one payoff for investing in higher education.

And President Biden saw something he could do to help tens of millions of Americans struggling under the weight of student debt and invest in the future of our economy.  So he did it. 

Debt cancellation was the right thing to do. And that’s why the majority of Americans – with or without loans – support cancellation.

I’m celebrating because cancellation will provide life-changing relief for working families across this country. And that’s why I object to the Senate Republicans’ shameless attempt to deny them this relief they need.

Thank you, Mr. President.