BERNARD COLUMN: Democrats – pulling defeat from the jaws of victory?

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Biden recently forgave $10,000 of student debt ($20,000 for Pell grant recipients). As a social progressive and fiscal conservative, I doubt both the political and fiscal wisdom of his action. Wharton estimates that the decision to forgive debt will cost $300 billion (https://budgetmodel.wharton.upenn.edu/issues/2022/8/23/forgiving-student-loans ), money we do not have.

On the political side, until recently it looked as though the Democrats were going to be ravished in November. But then came the Dobbs decision throwing out Roe v Wade. Democrats became energized, as well they should. Then they unilaterally passed the Inflation Reduction Act. While it did little for inflation, it was a major step forward for environmental health. It also begins the process of bring down Medicare drug prices for seniors while capping out of pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients, among many other benefits. And, by raising taxes on the corporations and the wealthy, it significantly reduces the deficit. As Biden would say, a big win for the party and the nation. Congratulations!

And Biden’s dismal poll numbers are finally going up. Further, a swing race in upstate NY’s 19th was won by the Democrat Pat Ryan (on 8-23-22) with 52% of the vote district. Ryan emphasized abortion rights while his competitor zeroed in on inflation and lost. For a change, it looked like the Democrats would not be swept away in November. But then came the education loan forgiveness executive order. 

Which brings me to Biden’s decision to delay payments on school loans and forgive $10,000 in school loans to anyone making under $125,000 ($250,000 for a couple). And, $20,000 for those getting Pell grants (i.e., those in need). Biden’s decision is not offset by tax increases. It will simply raise the deficit, which thanks both to Trump and the pandemic, is at record levels. The GOP will jump all over this fact.

The GOP has already begun to play up the fact that forgiving loans penalizes those who paid their way through by working while they went to school (like I did). It also penalizes those who have already paid off their loans after they left school.

Further, it is hard to say that the decision is designed to help those in a financial bind. It would be different if the forgiveness program were more targeted, say for those couples making under $100,000 or only for those receiving Pell grants (families making under $60,000 annually). However, a couple making $249,000 is more than able to pay off school loans.

As a former elected official, I can tell you that elections are won by the following: a. motivating your base and b. getting swing voters. The left is saying the program does not go far enough. But I doubt Biden’s move will motivate anyone to vote who was not already intending to do so. Therefore, I see no benefit regarding getting out the base.

The other way to win an election is by getting the unaligned, swing voters. These folks are harder to motivate to start with and are skeptical of both parties. Will the Democrats throwing money at Gen Z folks help? No polls have been taken, but I doubt that it will. My gut tells me that the folks that have no debt will resent Biden helping those who do. And the GOP will play it up as the Democrats throwing money at people to get votes. Which in this case is clearly true.

If the Democrats really want to get younger voters to come out in November, they need to find unique ways motivate them. For example, run on abolishing the outdated federal and state marijuana laws and legalizing gambling nationwide and in every state. And then using the tax money raised to abolish college tuition, much like Zell Miller did when he pushed through the lottery to fund college grants.

Zero in on women losing the right to choose what to do with their bodies. Contraception is next. And continue to push the fact that the current version of the GOP does not believe in democracy.

That fact can be easily proven.