The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why Biden’s student loan bailout will backfire on him

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) speaks in Columbus, Ohio, on May 3. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

President Biden’s decision to send an enormous windfall to millions of Americans who owe money on student loans will dominate the news over the next few weeks and help the Republican effort this fall.

We know that because Democratic candidates for Senate — from Ohio’s Rep. Tim Ryan to Nevada’s Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — are running away from Biden’s plan. Handing out $10,000 and $20,000 checks to favored individuals will fester and backfire on the president’s party in November.

Biden mangled the teleprompter text during the plan’s rollout and also offered a URL that wasn’t working the next morning when I tried it; The Post reported that “curious borrowers” crashed the Education Department’s website on Wednesday. But then Biden multiplied his mistakes by likening Republicans and their supporters to “semi-fascists,” a face-plant that will have lasting damage, just as Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment lingers to this day.

The loan forgiveness scheme is unlikely to survive a court challenge. It is hard to see how any president has the authority to wipe out debt, even if that debt was sanctioned by the feds. “It’s unconstitutional,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) told me the morning after the Biden announcement, “which is obviously something important. I don’t think that that’s something Biden cares about, but he doesn’t have the authority to do this.”

The issue will pulse through the electorate in ways that deepen many of the cultural grievances and resentments that now aggravate and animate the two parties. No one is against helping truly desperate people in need, but the Biden administration’s suggestion that recipients face a means test before receiving the benefit is a joke. Doctors, lawyers and investment bankers on the rise can grab their Biden gold (as much as $40,000 for a married couple), and this is available to any student debtor about to start a job in Big Law, Big Tech or Big Finance.

Compare that benefit with these groups:

All parents who saved and saved and then took out second mortgages to help pay their kids’ college and graduate school tuition bills. They are looking and feeling like suckers now.

Veterans who went to school on the GI Bill, but to reap those benefits had to spend time in Kabul or Mosul, or at a base in Texas or on a ship in the Pacific.

The young folks who went to the community college for two years to get their required courses completed on the cheap and worked to put some dollars on the table.

Student-athletes who trained and trained so that their colleges would give them athletic scholarships, which they retained only if they participated faithfully. Many of those sports require players to practice a minimum of 25 to 30 hours a week. They essentially worked their way through college.

Think, too, of the people who chose after high school to go to work right away, for a trade or a craft or just a job. They assembled cars or toiled in a shipyard or decided to work in hospitality and spent two years as the night clerk before getting a break at a decent shift. It’s not a path the college-bound kid pondered; but those who wanted to — or had no choice but to take it — might feel this federal giveaway to the more fortunate is the last straw.

And then there is this: Residents in and around D.C. have some of the highest levels of student indebtedness in the nation. Noted Axios’s Chelsea Cirruzzo, “District residents ages 25-34 owe the most federal student loan debt at $2.8 billion, followed by ages 35-49 at $2.5 billion.”

No wonder Democrats such as Colorado’s Michael F. Bennet and Nevada’s Cortez Masto took positions arguing that the giveaway should have been more targeted. “Democrats in the closest races,” explained Axios's Josh Kraushaar, “they came out within hours railing against it.” Too late: Biden stepped on another rake.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board eviscerated President Biden’s much-anticipated student loan handout as “vote-buying at its most raw.”

The Post deemed it “regressive.”

The best summary is that it’s unconstitutional and inflationary — and the fact that it’s bad politics for Democratic incumbents provides the only silver lining.