As the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden has put forward a broad student loan forgiveness proposal. His new plan goes further than any other proposal he has previously offered to tackle student loan reform.
But given his age – Biden is 77 years old – and earlier speculation that if elected, he may only serve one term, attention has shifted to his potential running mate. Biden’s pick for Vice President could shape student loan policy and reform for a generation, so the significance of the decision cannot be understated.
Here’s a breakdown of where the leading vice presidential contenders stand on student loan reform.
Sen. Kamala Harris has emerged as an early frontrunner to be Biden’s running mate.
When she served as California’s Attorney General, Harris established herself as an early leader in the struggle to stop predatory for-profit schools from defrauding students. Her office sued one of the largest for-profit college chains in the nation — Corinthian Colleges — and she played a key role in bringing down the company, which allegedly saddled thousands of student loan borrowers with mountains of debt and limited career prospects. Harris has since been a strong proponent of Borrower Defense to Repayment, a program established to provide relief to student loan borrowers defrauded by their schools.
Harris has also supported initiatives for free college. She backed the College For All Act in 2017 (a bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders), and she co-sponsored the Debt-Free College Act of 2018, which would have created a federal-state partnership to incentivize states to reduce or eliminate tuition at public colleges and universities.
As a presidential candidate, Harris came out with her own student loan forgiveness plan. She proposed cancelling up to $20,000 in student loans for borrowers who established successful new businesses in underserved communities. However, the plan was criticized by some as being narrowly focused and unwieldy.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has also emerged as a possible top pick for Vice President.
Warren has been one of the most consistent and outspoken advocates for student loan borrowers. She was instrumental in helping establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and recession. The CFPB was tasked with protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices by financial institutions. The agency successfully sued student loan servicers such as Navient for illegal practices. Warren has also advocated strongly for bankruptcy reform and lowering student loan interest rates.
When she ran for president, Warren was the first candidate to support widespread student loan forgiveness. She proposed cancelling up to $50,000 in student loans for borrowers who make less than $250,000 per year. Her plan would have benefited an estimated 95% of student loan borrowers. The proposal would have covered both federal and private student loans, and would have been tax free. Borrowers who would not have received complete loan forgiveness would have been allowed to refinance their remaining balance at a lower interest rate.
Warren has also suggested that as president, she could use executive authority to enact widespread student loan forgiveness, without congressional legislation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is seen by some as a strong pick for Vice President because she hails from a midwestern state. Biden may need to win back several states in the region that flipped to Trump in 2016 if he is to win the general election.
Klobuchar has taken a more moderate position on student loan reform. She has rejected calls for widespread student loan forgiveness of the kind proposed by Sen. Warren. However, she has not publicly commented on Biden’s current student loan forgiveness plan. As a presidential candidate, Klobuchar proposed allowing borrowers to refinance existing federal student loans at a lower rate of 3%.
Klobuchar has supported some degree of free college, but her past proposals were largely limited to community colleges only. She has pushed back on more widespread plans to forgive student loans or make college free, citing concerns about costs.
Stacey Abrams, the former state legislative leader who ran for Georgia governor in 2018 (and lost by a narrow margin), is also viewed as a possible pick for Vice President. Abrams could bring energetic grassroots support and a network of voting rights activists, and she herself has expressed strong interest in being vice president.
When it comes to student loan debt, Abrams has not advanced as many concrete national policy proposals as other lawmakers, likely because she has not served in Congress and has not run for president. During her run for governor, she did put forward a $100 million plan to make college in Georgia more affordable for residents.
But Abrams may be uniquely positioned because she is a student loan borrower herself. Abrams has widely discussed that she owes approximately $170,000 in student loan and credit card debt. She has touted her experience with dealing with student loans as an asset to her candidacy, stating, “Sometimes we stumble and we have to have a leader who understands those struggles.”
Biden is reportedly considering others, as well.
Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois has similarly supported existing student loan reform proposals. As a veteran, she has also proposed relief geared towards veterans, including the Servicemember Student Loan Affordability Act, which would have allowed student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower rates and have their rates capped when serving in the military.