Democratic presidential hopefuls are full of ideas about what to do with the nation’s $1.6 trillion of student debt. Today, Senator Bernie Sanders announced the most expansive proposal of those the candidates have suggested thus far. Sanders, along with Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, introduced new legislation to cancel all student debt—yes, all student debt—and make public colleges debt-free.
The thing that most sets their proposal apart from others is that it includes no income or other restrictions, meaning even doctors and lawyers, who tend to carry a lot of debt but who also tend to be well paid, would be eligible. When asked at a press conference this morning why his proposal would extend to such top earners, Sanders responded, “I believe in universality, and that means if Donald Trump wants to send his kids to a public school, he can do that.” He stressed that “all Americans are entitled to Social Security, are entitled to Medicare, are entitled to education as a right.”
Sanders’s declaration highlights the divide between his campaign’s solution to the plight of the nation’s student borrowers, and that of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic primary’s other progressive staple. Warren’s debt-cancellation plan, which was announced alongside a slate of higher-education proposals in April, would cancel up to $50,000 of student debt for those who make less than $100,000 a year; those who earn more would get less relief, and the relief tapers out altogether for those earning more than $250,000 a year. The plan, she told me in a May interview, was designed to reduce, or at the very least not exacerbate, the glaring wealth disparity between black and white Americans.