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Biden unveils student loan forgiveness plan in Madison

It was the president's second Wisconsin visit in less than a month

President Joe Biden, center, arrives on Air Force One at Dane County Regional Airport for an event on student loan debt at Madison College, Monday, April 8, 2024, in Madison, Wis. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Joe Biden announced a new plan Monday that would knock out unpaid student loan interest for millions of borrowers, including about 25 million people who owe more in interest than their initial loans were worth.

He unveiled the proposal during a visit to Madison Area Technical College. It was his second visit to Wisconsin in less than a month and, in centering on Dane County, a return to the Democratic stronghold that will be key to his reelection path this November.

“Today, too many Americans — especially young people — are saddled with sustainable debts in exchange for college,” he told the assembled crowd. “The ability for working and middle class folks to repay their student loans has become so burdensome that a lot can’t repay, even decades after being in school.”

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Under the proposal, debt would be canceled for people already eligible for certain federal student loan forgiveness programs. It would also cancel debt for anyone who began repaying their undergraduate loans more than 20 years ago, or graduate loans more than 25 years ago.

And it would wipe out up to $20,000 in unpaid interest for about 25 million people whose interest burden eclipses the amount they originally borrowed.

According to a press release, the plan would eliminate all accrued interest for 23 million people and cancel out debt for 4 million people.

It’s the Biden Administration’s second stab at a sweeping student debt plan after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an earlier White House plan last June. That plan would have forgiven between $10,000 and $20,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers.

President Joe Biden, right, speaks with Colonel Bart T. Van Roo, 115th Fighter Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, as he arrives at Dane County Regional Airport for an event on student loan debt at Madison College, Monday, April 8, 2024, in Madison, Wis. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Biden also highlighted his administration’s record on other student debt projects, achieved through executive action rather than the legislative process. They say about four million borrowers have seen $146 billion in debt relief to day. That includes relief programs for people whose schools closed and forgiveness programs for people who work in public service or are disabled.

“Too many people feel the strain and stress, wondering if they’re going to get married, have their first child, start a family. Because even if they get by, they still have this crushing, crushing debt,” Biden said. “It’s not just a drag on them, it’s a drag on our local economies.”

In a statement, the Republican National Committee criticized Biden’s plan as too expensive.

“Biden wants to use your tax dollars to buy votes because more and more young people are supporting President Trump,” said RNC Chairman Michael Whatley. “Biden’s student loan bailout for the wealthy was already struck down by the Supreme Court and his policies are driving historic inflation.”

Biden’s second Wisconsin trip in less than a month

It was Biden’s third visit to Wisconsin this year and 10th as President. He was in Milwaukee less than a month ago to tout infrastructure projects.

The visit underscores purple Wisconsin’s importance to Biden’s reelection pathway. He clinched the Democratic vote in Wisconsin’s primary last week, but has faced protest from the left wing of his party over his handling of Israel’s war in Gaza. About 48,000 Wisconsinites voted “uninstructed” in protest.

That same issue had a small presence on the street outside the MATC campus on Monday, as a few dozen protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted for a ceasefire and end of military aid to Israel.

Protestors hold a sign prior to an appearance by President Joe Biden at the Madison Area Technical College Truax Campus on Monday, April 8, 2024, in Madison, Wis. AP Photo/Kayla Wolf

Last week, former President Donald Trump was in Green Bay, and clinched the Republican primary that evening. Biden and Trump are expected to battle fiercely for Wisconsin, a place where national elections are often decided by less than a percentage point. Both candidates are unpopular and face a general enthusiasm gap as voters look toward a rematch from 2020.

Both face a favorability rating of about 41 percent, according to recent Gallup polling. About 56 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s record to date, according to Reuters.

Nevertheless, Biden has been hammering his record while on the campaign trail, including focusing on kitchen table issues like energy infrastructure and prescription drug costs.

Monday’s Madison visit was part of a broader White House promotion of work on student debt issues. At the same time that Biden was in Madison, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Philadelphia, and her husband, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, was in Phoenix to promote the plan.

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