PREPARED REMARKS: Chairman Sanders Delivers Senate Floor Speech in Defense of Student Debt Relief

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 – Ahead of a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 43, that would deny student debt relief to millions of Americans, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, gave remarks today on the floor of the U.S. Senate urging his colleagues to vote “no” and instead work to cancel student debt for millions more Americans.

Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched here:

M. President: I rise in strong opposition to Senate Joint Resolution 43 that we will be voting on today.

M. President: Let’s be clear about what’s happening in America today.

Today, while the very richest people in America become much richer, over 60 percent of our people are living paycheck to paycheck and many work for starvation wages and under terrible working conditions.

In America today, while CEOs are making nearly 350 times as much as their average workers, tens of millions of our people are struggling to pay the rent, pay for childcare, pay for health care, pay for prescription drugs and to put food on the table.

That is especially true for our young people who, if we don’t change course economically, may well have a lower standard of living than their parents.

M. President: If we lived in a nation with rational priorities, we would not be giving more tax breaks to billionaires as my Republican colleagues want.

We would not be tolerating the massive income and wealth inequality that currently exists in America where three people own more wealth than the bottom half of our society.

What we would be doing, just like a number of other countries have been doing, is understanding that the future of America rests with its young people. And we would be doing everything we possibly could to make sure that every single person in this country, regardless of income, had the highest quality education that our nation could provide.

M. President: Our goal must be to make sure that we have the best educated workforce in the world.

That’s not just important for the sake of individuals, it is vital to the future of our country.

Just as a poorly funded, poorly armed and poorly trained military doesn’t win battles, a poorly educated population does not flourish in a competitive global economy.

M. President: In 1990, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of young people between the ages of 25-34 with college degrees. Today we are in 15th place behind countries like South Korea, Canada, Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Over 40 years ago, a federal Pell Grant paid for over 80 percent of tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public college.

But today, because of massive cutbacks in education, Pell Grants cover less than a third of those expenses.

And that is a major reason why more than 45 million Americans are drowning in over $1.7 trillion in student debt.

In America today, hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans are not going to college – not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it.

And let’s be clear: We don’t just need more 4-year college graduates. We need more plumbers, pipefitters, carpenters and electricians. That is why we need major investments in trade schools and that is why we need to substantially expand the number of apprenticeships in America – something that the HELP Committee is actively working on.

In my view, what we need to do is to make all public colleges and universities tuition free and cancel all student debt.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the President’s plan does.

But this is what the President’s plan does do: It cuts student loan payments in half for Americans who have taken out undergraduate loans.

In fact, under the President’s SAVE plan, student loan borrowers will be seeing their monthly payments reduced from 10 percent of their income down to just 5 percent.

Further, it eliminates monthly student loan payments entirely for people who make $15 an hour or less.

And it gives student loan borrowers the ability to wipe out – or to substantially reduce their student loan debt over a 10-year period.

M. President: If Senator Cassidy’s resolution is enacted, it would repeal President Biden’s plan and it would eliminate student debt relief for more than 5 million Americans who desperately need it.

That would be absolutely unacceptable.

Why do the Republicans want to repeal the President’s student loan plan?

They will tell you that it costs too much money. We just can’t afford it.

Really? That’s funny.

My Republican colleagues had no problem voting to give away over a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the top one percent and large corporations when Donald Trump was President – without paying for it.

They had no problem voting for a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street when George W. Bush was president – without paying for it.

They had no problem voting for an $886 billion budget for the Pentagon this year despite the fact that the Department of Defense is the only federal agency in America that cannot pass an independent audit and cannot account for trillions of dollars in spending.

But now, my Republican colleagues want you to believe that we cannot afford to lower monthly student loan payments for working class Americans who are struggling to put a roof over her head, pay for child care, and put food on the table? Give me a break.

M. President: Let me be as clear as I can be: If we can afford to provide trillions of dollars in tax breaks and corporate welfare to the wealthy and the powerful, we can and we must provide student debt relief to millions of Americans.

A vote for this resolution would deny student debt relief to millions of Americans – across every state and across every Congressional district.

A vote for this resolution would place millions of Americans at risk of eventual delinquency and default on their student loans.

We cannot allow that to happen.

I urge my colleagues to vote against this resolution and I yield the floor.