Senator Elizabeth Warren, already the 2020 Democratic field’s go-to candidate for producing specific policy proposals, unveiled on Monday perhaps her most ambitious one yet: a sweeping plan to overhaul the higher-education system that would forgive a majority of the country’s student-loan debt and make public universities tuition-free.
The Massachusetts senator laid out the details in a Medium post: Her plan would cancel up to $50,000 in student debt for people in households earning less than $100,000—an estimated 42 million Americans—while seeking to substantially wipe out a portion of student loans for those with household incomes between $100,000 and $250,000. In an effort, she said, to prevent another student debt crisis, Warren also proposed eliminating tuition at public colleges, plus an expansion of grants to cover additional costs like books and housing, including a $50 billion fund for historically black colleges and universities, to make free college “truly universal?.”
“Higher education opened a million doors for me. It’s how the daughter of a janitor in a small town in Oklahoma got to become a teacher, a law school professor, a U.S. Senator, and eventually, a candidate for President of the United States,” Warren wrote in Medium. “Today, it’s virtually impossible for a young person to find that kind of opportunity.”
Warren accurately called the proposal “truly transformational”: According to her campaign, it would forgive at least some student debt for more than 95 percent of people who have it, and would completely pay off the loans of more than 75 percent. And whether you have student debt or not, Warren argues it’s “a problem for all of us,” financially burying millions of families and “acting as an anchor” on the economy at large: “It’s leading fewer people to start businesses. It’s forcing students to drop out of school before getting a degree... it’s reducing home-ownership rates.”
Already anticipating the inevitable questions about how she would pay for the $1.25 trillion education plan, Warren says she’d cover costs through her previously announced tax on the wealthiest Americans, or, as she’s coined it, the “Ultra-Millionaire Tax?—?a 2 percent annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth,” which would yield an estimated $2.75 trillion over 10 years, according to the Warren campaign.
“For decades, we’ve allowed the wealthy to pay less while burying tens of millions of working Americans in education debt,” she wrote. “It’s time to make different choices.”
While up-and-coming candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke are criticized for a lack of policy specifics, Warren has proposed an education plan that is only the latest in a long line of proposals, including instituting universal affordable child care, eliminating the Electoral College, expanding affordable public housing, and breaking up tech giants like Facebook. As former top Obama adviser David Axelrod said in a recent New York magazine profile of Buttigieg: “Elizabeth Warren is sort of running laps around people right now in terms of producing policy.”