COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan spoke out against President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan this week, it marked a departure from both his past statements on the issue and some of his votes.
The decision to go against a same-party president comes as Ryan tries to parlay his hometown credentials in Ohio’s working-class Mahoning Valley into the support he needs from Republicans and independents to defeat Republican JD Vance in this fall’s closely watched race for U.S. Senate.
Ryan on Wednesday joined Republicans and a handful of fellow Democrats in criticizing the president’s executive order to erase federal student loan debt for certain borrowers as unnecessary for some people and unfair to others. The plan forgives $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those with incomes below $125,000 a year, or households that earn less than $250,000, and cancels an additional $10,000 for those who received federal Pell Grants to attend college.
“As someone who’s paying off my own family’s student loans, I know the costs of higher education are too high,” Ryan said in a statement released by his campaign. “And while there’s no doubt that a college education should be about opening opportunities, waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet.”
Instead of forgiving loans “for six-figure earners,” Ryan said, the government should be pursuing more broadly beneficial policies, including an across-the-board tax cut for working- and middle-class families, medical debt cancellation and targeted forgiveness for essential workers. For student borrowers, he said he supports additional loan refinancing opportunities, apprenticeship investments and universal community college and workforce development and training “so all Americans — not just college grads — have a shot at success.”
But only a few years ago, Ryan was speaking out in favor of reducing debt accumulated during college.
“Student debt is out of control,” he tweeted in October 2018. “If we can bail out the banks who did everything wrong, we can help out the students who did everything right.”
Earlier that same year, Ryan called on Congress to “do more to help bring this debt down and make college more affordable,” lamenting that “44 million Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in student debt. This prevents them from investing in their communities, our economy, and their futures.”
And Ryan has backed up those stances with votes.
He cast a yes vote on the HEROES Act in May 2020, which included plans to cancel up to $10,000 in student loan debt for some 20 million “economically distressed” borrowers. That July, Ryan also supported an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that required the federal government to provide $10,000 in immediate assistance to an estimated 4.5 million private student loan holders.
Ryan campaign spokesperson Izzi Levy said his position on the Biden loan forgiveness plan isn’t an about-face.
“Tim believes using executive action to wipe away six-figure earners’ debt goes too far without actually addressing the skyrocketing costs of higher education that have caused this crisis,” she said in a statement. “Meanwhile, inflation remains high for all Ohioans, regardless of education level. Tim supports more targeted relief, as well as a host of proposals to rein in up-front educational costs, and believes the Administration would have been better served by prioritizing across-the-board economic relief that benefits all working- and middle-class Ohioans, whether or not they attended college.”
The Donald Trump-endorsed Vance, an author and venture capitalist, also is reaching across the aisle for Democratic and independent votes in a contest set to test the onetime bellwether state’s recent tack to the right.
Vance characterized Biden’s plan as “a $300 billion giveaway to college graduates — paid for by single moms in the form of higher food prices, by trade workers in the form of higher taxes, and by the next generation of students in the form of higher tuition.”
He, too, noted that some recipients of loan forgiveness under Biden’s plan have “six-figure incomes.” He said forcing universities like Harvard and Yale to liquidate their multibillion-dollar endowments would be a better way to reduce student debt without “juicing inflation.” Vance graduated from Yale Law School.
“Instead of holding administrators accountable for skyrocketing tuition, bloated bureaucratic budgets, and growing armies of ‘diversity’ consultants, Joe Biden has decided to bail out the group of people least in need – individuals with six-figure incomes, and couples making nearly a quarter million dollars per year,” his statement said.
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