A new approach to student debt relief

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the student loan forgiveness program from an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis

January 17, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 3

  • Biden’s second student loan gimmick
  • Calif. Dems rush to push Dianne Feinstein out of her Senate seat
  • Jim Banks running for Senate in Indiana


Student loan forgiveness 2.0: In 2022, President Joe Biden attempted to buy privileged, college-educated younger voters with an executive action to forgive student debt. That executive action is tied up in the courts and may not survive. But did it work politically? 

If the answer to that is unclear to anyone else, the Biden White House seems convinced that it helped. Biden is now trying regulatory debt forgiveness by other means — this time by reducing monthly payments all the way to zero for people making up to 225 percent of the poverty line (up from 150 percent), with payments capped at 5 percent of income above that level (down from 10 percent).

Unlike the earlier gimmick involving forgiveness of some lump sum, this one would be felt by student borrowers immediately in the form of lower or non-existent monthly payments. This means that, merits of the policy aside, there is some serious political potential here that Republicans in Congress and those running for president must not ignore.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: According to a new round of polls of governors’ popularity by Morning Consult, Andy Beshear (D) has the approval of 60% of the voters in his state — the highest rating so far of his term in office, and the highest of any Democratic governor in America today. Despite Kentucky’s red tinge — at long last the state finally has more registered Republican than Democratic voters — it is going to be a serious challenge for Republicans to knock him off this November.

Mississippi: Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has pulled the trigger and announced for governor. The distant cousin of Elvis is really playing up the folksy thing in his criticisms of Gov. Tate Reeves (R), perhaps a bit too much. To quote from Presley’s interview with the Associated Press, “I ain’t never owned a tennis racket, I ain’t never had a sweater wrapped around my waist and I ain’t never been a member of a country club.” 

Reeves, whose approval rating is positive but not overwhelmingly so, could still draw a primary challenge. The filing deadline for the Aug. 8 primary is Feb. 1, and former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller has said he might run. 

Senate 2024

California: Democrats in the Golden State may or may not be willing to knock over their own grandmothers for a Senate seat, but they are willing to wheel 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein out of her office as quickly as possible. They are starting to jump into this race headlong, even though the Democratic incumbent has not announced that she will be retiring. 

Rep. Katie Porter has already announced her Senate run, which will at the very least spare her from another close House race in 2024.

Rep. Barbara Lee, Despite having only about $55,000 in her campaign account as of the last election, has all but formally announced that she will run as well. any other Democrats, including Reps. Adam Schiff and Ro Khanna, are also considering the race. It could get very crowded, perhaps even to the point that some Republican will have a chance to run in the general election — never a guarantee in California’s top-two primary system.

Indiana: Rep. Jim Banks (R) has officially jumped into the Hoosier State’s open-seat Senate race. He also immediately gave the backing of the conservative Club for Growth, which also preemptively attacked another potential candidate, former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), in an ad that ran on this week’s Sunday shows. about his tax and spending policies while in office. Without mentioning Donald Trump, the ad subtly tries to tie Daniels to the old pre-Trump Republican Party by saying he “forgot how to fight.” 

Daniels has not yet committed to the race, which is why this ad’s real purpose is to try to discourage him from running.

Michigan: Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) has ruled herself out of running for the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D). 

Nebraska: Gov. Jim Pillen (R) surprised no one when he appointed his predecessor, former Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), to the open U.S. Senate seat left behind by Ben Sasse, who is becoming president of the University of Florida. Ricketts will face the voters in a 2024 special election. He is also promising that he will stick around to face them again in 2026, as Pillen announced that Ricketts has made a “ten-year commitment” to serve in the Senate.

Ricketts has had an uneven relationship with former President Trump, who at various times has praised and attacked him.

Ohio: Perhaps encouraged by his relatively decent performance in the 2022 primary, state Sen. Matt Dolan, who essentially represents the anti-Trump wing of the Republican Party, has announced that he will be running for the nomination against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). 

In a state where Trump is held in high esteem, this is going to be an uphill battle, even for someone with as much personal money to spend as Dolan has. Last year, Dolan received 23% of the vote in a seven-way Republican primary that included five major candidates, which was better than anyone expected him to do. But the four major candidates competing for Trump’s endorsement combined for more than 70% of the vote.

West Virginia: Former Democrat Gov. Jim Justice (R) has said he is considering running for the Senate seat currently held by former political ally, Sen. Joe Manchin (D). Manchin’s popularity at home has suffered since his vote for Joe Biden’s big spending package. Manchin thought he was trading his vote for some energy permitting provisions, but those never passed.  

House 2024

New York-3: Local Republicans have called on Rep. George Santos (R) to resign, which he refuses to do. One of the great dramas of this election cycle will be to see how long he manages to hold on to his seat, seeing as how he currently faces both federal and local investigations about apparent lies about his background and shady campaign financing.

House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said on Sunday that Santos will face a “strict ethics investigation” in the House as well and could be removed from office if he committed campaign finance violations. But congressional Republicans are hesitant to call on him openly to resign — the political reality is that they need his vote from day to day, given the thin margins in the House.  

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