The Republican response to President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program is to try to turn the issue into a culture war.
“Democrats’ student loan socialism is a slap in the face to working Americans who sacrificed to pay their debt or made different career choices to avoid debt,” said Mitch McConnell on Twitter. “A wildly unfair redistribution of wealth toward higher-earning people.”
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio asked, “Why should a machinist in Ohio pay for the student loans of a jobless philosophy major in Los Angeles?” And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy attacked loan forgiveness as a burden on “Hard-working Americans who already paid off their debts or never took on student loan debt in the first place.”
Republicans would say that they are simply speaking up for those Americans who won’t benefit from the program. But they’re working under faulty assumptions.
First, a few details on the program itself. Under the plan, Biden will direct the federal government to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loans for recipients of Pell Grants (which are awarded to students from low-income families), and up to $10,000 in loans for other eligible borrowers. It is restricted to individuals with incomes of up to $125,000 a year and households with incomes of up to $250,000 a year.
If every single recipient earned $124,999, it would lend credence to the Republican argument that this is some kind of war on working-class and blue-collar Americans. But they don’t. In fact, the biggest beneficiaries of Biden’s policy are exactly the people Republicans claim to represent with their rhetoric. As my newsroom colleague Jim Tankersley notes, “the people eligible for debt relief are disproportionately young and Black. And they are concentrated in the middle band of Americans by income, defined as households earning between $51,000 and $82,000 a year.”
If you want to haul freight for a living, you’ll need a commercial driver’s license, which means you’ll need training, which means you’ll need school. This schooling can cost thousands of dollars, and students can pay their tuition with federal student loans. So, too, can people who need training to work as medical technicians or home care workers or physical therapists or restaurant workers, among many other trades and professions.
Millions of people with blue-collar jobs owe thousands of dollars in federal student loans, and they may not have the income needed to pay them off. Biden’s plan helps them as much or more than a graduate of a four-year college with debt on the ledger. It also helps the millions of Americans who took out loans, attended college, but for one reason or another could not complete their degrees and are in the worst of all financial worlds as a result.
Like the “welfare queen,” the lazy, profligate and irresponsible student loan borrower of Republican rhetoric is a myth. And the point of the myth, as I said earlier, is to spread cultural resentment.
The fact of the matter is the Republican Party does not have anything to offer the millions of working- and middle-class Americans who labor under the burden of student debt. For all the talk of “populism,” the party is still hostile to the social safety net, opposed to raising the minimum wage, hostile to unions and worker power and virtually every economic policy intervention that isn’t tax cuts and upward redistribution from the many to the most fortunate few.
To debate the reality of student debt relief is to make that more than clear to the public at large. Republicans, then, are trying to make this a debate over culture, to try to reduce issues of class to a question of aesthetics, with traditional blue-collar workers on one side and the image of an ungrateful and unproductive young person on the other. And they’re hoping, as always, that you won’t notice.
What I Wrote
My Tuesday column was a response to the many arguments against prosecuting Donald Trump.
My Friday column was a wish list, of sorts, for what Democrats should do if they somehow keep their congressional majority.
And in the latest episode of my podcast with John Ganz, we discuss the movie “Die Hard 2: Die Harder.”
Robert Daniels interviews the actor and director Bill Duke for IndieWire.
Brian Morton on privilege politics for Dissent magazine.
Jenny G. Zhang on seasoning for Bon Appétit.
Edward Ongweso Jr. on student loan forgiveness for Vice.
Aaron Hanlon on “cancel culture” for the New Republic.
Feedback If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to your friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow me on Twitter (@jbouie), Instagram and TikTok.
Photo of the Week
I have driven past this shack many times over the years — it is on US-29 South on the way to Lynchburg, Va. — but I have never actually been inside. I don’t even know if I can go inside because I’m not sure what it is, exactly.
I took this picture on an iPhone a few years ago. Maybe the next time I decide to stop I’ll use a proper camera.
Now Eating: Green Chile Chicken Stew
I made this for dinner a few nights ago and the kids loved it, which to my mind is the highest possible recommendation. I would not use canned chiles for this recipe; if you cannot find fresh Hatch chiles, buy Anaheim chiles to roast, peel and chop. About four large chiles will make one cup, although you can always add more. I also added a heaping teaspoon of Mexican oregano to the dish. Recipe from NYT Cooking.
6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, legs or a cut-up whole chicken (about 3 pounds)
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil or lard
Flour, for dredging
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 cup chopped roasted New Mexico green chile, fresh or frozen and thawed
3 cups chicken stock or water
2 large potatoes, peeled, cut in 1-inch cubes
3 large carrots, peeled, cut in 2-inch slices
3 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Warm flour or corn tortillas, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess. Brown chicken well on both sides, then remove and set aside.
Add onions to pot, season lightly with salt and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cumin, and cook for 1 minute. Then add chopped chiles and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Return chicken to pot; reduce heat to a brisk simmer, and cook, covered with lid ajar, for 30 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots and cook for 20 to 25 minutes more, until vegetables are soft but not falling apart.
Skim fat from surface of sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt. For a thicker sauce, add dissolved cornstarch and stir well. Cook for 1 minute more.
Serve in deep wide soup plates with plenty of sauce. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with warm tortillas and lime wedges.