Congressional abdication on student debt is NOT a threshold issue for Black voters, no matter what Elizabeth Warren says.

Elizabeth Warren

Over the weekend, legislators insisting President Biden assert a claim of unprecedented powers over the federal budget to cancel student loans on a broad, unqualified basis (as opposed to criteria-based relief) - something that falls squarely within their ability to legislate rather than within the president's power to execute the laws - have pushed a survey showing broad support of debt cancellation among Black Americans to create an aura of emergency. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the most prominent backer of Congressional abdication on student loans, pushed the headline from the survey that nearly 4 in 10 Black voters will consider staying home in 2022 if President Biden doesn't take unilateral action to overstep presidential authority to cancel $50,000 in student debt for every borrower with outstanding student loan debt.

Indeed, the study Warren and others are citing does purport to show that 40% of Black voters they surveyed say they will "never vote for" a candidate who disagrees with them on "eliminating student debt." The survey, however, is riddled with its own discrepancies between what the sponsor of the survey want the numbers in it to mean and what the numbers actually do mean.

Black voters did just vote for, in droves, for a candidate who ran on a much more modest student loan relief proposal and insisted that Congress must enact broad-based relief, not the executive, not just in the general election but in the Democratic primary as well, where they had the choice of at least two other prominent candidates - including Warren herself - who proposed the type of broad, large-scale relief Warren is claiming support for. Joe Biden ran on a Congressionally-enacted $10,000 per borrower relief, and received massive support among Black voters.

The Global Strategy Group survey, commissioned by Color of Change, shows President Biden and Vice President Harris are far more popular among Black voters than not just any debt relief proposal, but than politicians pushing legislative abdication on student debt relief.

The survey shows Biden with an 87% favorability rating among Black voters. Vice President Harris enjoys 80% favorability, as do Democrats (as a whole) in Congress. Warren herself has just 50% favorability among Black voters, while Chuck Schumer, who has hitched his wagon to Warren on this issue, is stuck at an even lower 43%. In what must be an embarrassing showing, even Sallie Mae - the issuer and holder of federal student loans - is more popular than Schumer, at 47%.

Credit: Global Strategy Group, Color of Change.

I should note that the ratings for the President and Vice President are likely understated in the GSG survey. The survey shows Biden at 50% overall favorability with all voters, but numerous recent polls have have found the President's approval rating at around 60% and above. Furthermore, Biden's strong overall approval is driven in good part by his massive popularity among Democrats, with a recent Gallup poll putting it at a whopping 98%.

The idea that is a threshold issue is undermined further by the fact that Joe Biden received - and continues to receive - overwhelming support from Black Americans despite the fact that he is explicitly opposed to another such supposed threshold issue, as presented in the survey, Medicare for All. The survey claims that half of Black voters would not support candidates who oppose a single payer health care system, and that claim is once again belied by the fact that Black voters did just that, not just in electing Biden but in delivering two Georgia Senate seats to two Democrats, both of whom explicitly rejected Medicare for All.

Throwing yet another chink into the already-disintegrating armor of the Congressional abdication dressed up as Black advocacy, a Morning Consult poll in January found that 52% of Black voters believe that forgiving student debt would mostly benefit those who are already economically better off. They are correct, of course, given that a typical worker with a college degree earns $1 million more than those without, and just 6% of borrowers owe even a tenth ($100,000) that amount in outstanding student debt.

This is not to say that Black voters may not support somewhat of a broader debt relief proposal, but the numbers, even as they are presented by the survey Warren and her friends are holding up as supporting their case, simply do not present a case that executive usurpation of power - and legislative abdication of responsibility - on student debt is a threshold issue for Black voter.

In fact, Black voters, like many others, understand that the issue of  higher education cannot be whittled down to sloganeering about the issue of debt forgiveness, or more to the point, sloganeering about legislative abdication on student debt forgiveness. President Biden's commitment to making community colleges free and four-year state colleges free to middle class families, his attention to non-university post-secondary education, and his dedication to strengthening HBCUs are much more key to creating a system of equitable higher education than executive usurpation of legislative prerogative over debts for which payments are already paused.

Finally, advocates of Congressional abdication are not even attempting to make a case that there is broad popular support for Congress not to do what they want to pressure the President into doing illegally. If Warren, Schumer, and others truly believed that broad, unqualified student debt relief is as pressing an issue as their press releases make it sound, they would put their heads down and work out a deal in Congress to provide that relief. The fact that they are not doing so should tell us that it is they who don't care to take the issue seriously.

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