Hard-working Americans also need student loan debt relief

House Republicans have not been shy about their political campaign to smear Americans saddled with higher education debt as “elites” looking for a handout.

“The Biden administration is simply transferring debt from borrowers who willingly took out student loans to hard-working taxpayers who did not,” argued Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, of North Carolina, last week as Congressional representatives were debating a bill that would block President Joe Biden student loan debt relief program.

As the nonpartisan Roll Call newspaper put it, in their bid to block Biden’s proposed student debt relief program — which would forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt for borrowers who earn less than $125,000, and up to $20,000 for lower-income Pell Grant recipients — House Republicans are “deploying a political strategy that pits working-class voters against young people with college degrees who are increasingly voting Democratic.”

Republicans are “willing to sacrifice 20 million-ish of their own constituents in order to hurt Joe Biden. It’s basically just cruel politics,” Melissa Byrne, the founder of We, The 45 Million, a pro-student loan debt relief group, told Roll Call last week.

Unfortunately — especially for the more than 14 million hard-working Americans earning less than $75,000 a year who qualified for Biden’s debt relief program — this game of “cruel politics” (otherwise known as House Resolution 45) passed the House on May 24, by a vote of 218-203.

Two Democrats joined the Republicans to vote “yea” on the measure. One of those Democrats was Southwest Washington’s own District 3 Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who later posted on Twitter that she voted for the anti-debt relief measure because she believes “expansions of student debt forgiveness need to be matched dollar-for-dollar with investments in career & technical education.”

“I can’t support the first without the other ,” Gluesenkamp Perez stated. “The severe shortage of trades workers needs to be seen & treated as a national priority. It’s about respect.”

Later, the congresswoman — who did warn voters she would not be “a typical Democrat” before beating far-right Republican candidate Joe Kent in the November 2022 general election — added a bit of insult to injury, posting again to Twitter that “College costs too much & the credentials produced get unwarranted social status, justifying more cost increases by our country’s elite. They need to snap out of it & the system needs a total overhaul.”

That’s pretty rich considering the fact that Gluesenkamp Perez earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from one of the most elite liberal arts colleges in the nation — Reed College in Portland, which boasts an annual tuition of more than $60,000.

It’s also confounding that the Congresswoman doesn’t seem to realize the vast burden of student loan debt on decidedly non-elite workers in this country. According to the nonprofit Education Data group, “borrowers from households in the middle-class income bracket owe on average $43,090 in student loan debt,” and the average student loan borrower between the ages of 35 to 49 in the U.S. owes an average of $43,241 or nearly three-fourths their average annual income.

There is no doubt that student loan debt is a burden for millions of hard-working Americans. According to a 2022 survey, significant numbers of younger Americans said their school loans payments were so high it prevented them from investing money (40%), saving for retirement (38%), making travel plans (33%), buying a home (33%); having a baby (16%) or getting married (14%).

And as Gluesenkamp Perez, who sat on the advisory committee for the Mount Hood Community College Automotive Program, must know, people who enter the trades are not immune from racking up student loan debt. In fact, according to College Evaluator, the average cost for trade schools in Washington state is now more than $15,000 in tuition and fees plus two years’ worth of housing, food and other everyday living costs.

Republicans and Democrats like Gluesenkamp Perez would have us believe that people can easily make it in the U.S. today without some sort of higher education, but the reality is that more than 65% of all jobs in this nation now require postsecondary education beyond high school and at least 35% require a bachelor’s degree. As USA Today reported this month, “Despite persistent labor shortages, workers without a college degree still struggle to get higher-paying roles in America’s job market.”

It is disappointing that Gluesenkamp Perez cannot — or will not — see how much Biden’s plan would help millions of middle-class Americans, including many of the 93,749 school loan debtors in her own district.

Gluesenkamp Perez is now taking heat from constituents for her decision to vote against Biden’s student loan debt relief. We can only hope the new congresswoman listens to them and especially to the sign-waver who stood in front of Gluesenkamp Perez’s Portland-based automotive repair shop last week, holding a sign that read simply: “Working people need debt relief!”