opinion | Biden can still avoid offering wasted student debt forgiveness

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With declining poll numbers and midterm elections just over five months away, leading Democrats have been pressuring President Biden to erase huge amounts of student debt — in the vicinity of $50,000 per month. The president will be fine, which, they argue, allows the president to do with a wave of his hand. Biden has rightly resisted such a give-off, which would shower federal aid to many wealthy college students who don’t need the help.

Until maybe now. After months of uncertainty, The Post’s Tyler Pager, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Jeff Stein reported that Biden is ready to announce a student debt plan that isn’t as spectacularly bad as the ideas some other Democrats have been pushing for. But that’s not much of a difference; The president’s apparent plan would still be an expensive and unreasonable election year stunt.

Biden’s reported policy, which he had hoped to announce last week, would forgive $10,000 in student debt per person. Deletion of $10,000 instead of $50,000 per month The borrower would be a nod to those who point out that eliminating large amounts of student debt would cost the government huge sums of money — money that would be spent in ways that Congress did not intend when lawmakers created the federal student loan program. Biden’s plan would also limit debt forgiveness to individuals earning less than $150,000 a year or couples earning less than $300,000, fending off criticism that public money would be provided to rich, well-educated people.

While these provisions are welcome, they won’t stop the policy from becoming yet another taxpayer-funded subsidy for the upper middle class. The president’s mean test would be nearly useless, as about 97 percent of borrowers would still qualify for forgiveness. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an impartial watchdog, estimates that such a plan would cost at least $230 billion, that 71 percent of benefits would flow to those in the top half of the income scale — and that a quarter of the benefits would go to the top 20 percent. Even this does not fully express how regressive the policy would be, because many recent graduates from medical, legal, and business schools would qualify for forgiveness, even if their lifetime income trajectories do not justify it.

Rough estimates suggest that a third of borrowers would see their balances disappear, and another 20 percent of student debtors would see their balances at least halved. To do so, it must be said, would help some really needy people. Low-income borrowers who have relatively small amounts of debt but are still struggling to make their payments could see their balances eliminated or significantly reduced. The support can be life-changing for some former students who toil under the weight of default, as student loan debt generally cannot be released into bankruptcy.

But Biden could ease the burden on the truly disadvantaged in a number of more targeted ways — and avoid setting a precedent for broad forgiveness of loans that future presidents will be pressured to match. Administration officials stressed that Biden has not made a final decision and that his goal is to help those most in need. Good. He still has time to change course.

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