As a policy it’s been dismissed, trivialized, and now back-burnered by a sympathetic President. But it would be a game-changer.

By Nora-Kathleen Berryhill, The Progressive Magazine

When Joe Biden became the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, he sat down with the runner-up, Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, and created the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force to merge some of Sanders’s most popular policy proposals into Biden’s comparatively moderate platform. Co-chaired by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and former Secretary of State John Kerry, the task force produced 110 pages of progressive policy recommendations, ranging from establishing a $15 federal minimum wage and universal health care, to calling for better federal oversight of police and adopting a climate framework similar to Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal.”

A man walks outside of a community college facade

Collaboration with progressives also pushed Biden to take a slightly bolder stance on the higher-education affordability crisis. As Sanders’s campaign push in the 2020 primaries to cancel student debt and make public universities and colleges free was a major mobilizing force among young voters, Biden promised to cancel $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person and to make both two- and four-year public colleges and universities free for students with family incomes under $125,000.

These policies went further than some expected, but they weren’t revolutionary. After all, broad bipartisan support already existed for a more expansive approach than what Biden proposed: An estimated 63 percent of Americans (and, notably, 52 percent of Republicans under fifty who have not completed a college degree) believe that public colleges and universities should be made tuition-free for all U.S. students. And advocacy groups urged President Biden to adopt a bicameral resolution by Democratic lawmakers in February 2021 to cancel $50,000 in student loans for federal borrowers.

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