“What voters are looking for in this election is someone who is going to be a champion for everyday people,” Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager said earlier this month. “For young people, that’s debt-free college, that is finding that job after you graduate.”
The words “debt-free college” are treated like some bizarre fantasy that can only happen in an utopian future or Scandinavia or Germany.
In America, where finding ways to haze the poor is the only purely conservative art form, we’re busy figuring out ways to make college more expensive. College is so expensive and aid so slight that many schools have to run food pantries for students, The Nation‘s Michelle Goldberg reports.
So last week, when Bernie Sanders proposed a bill that would make college tuition-free, you could hear conservatives pffffft-ing throughout the land at a purely political stunt that could never be law.
But why not?
At an estimated cost of $47-70 billion a year, tuition-free college would cost less than the top four tax expenditures in our budget. We spend $91 billion a year giving investors tax breaks on capital gains, a break that goes predominately to the richest whose runaway accumulation of wealth is slowing our economy and warping our political system. We’ve spent $1.5 trillion on one fighter plane — the F-35 — that’s still years away from being combat ready. That could fund tuition-free college for more than 21 years. At an estimated cost of over $2 trillion, the money we spent on the Iraq War could have funded another 28 and a half years. That’s half a century of tuition-free college right there.
And let’s not pretend Republicans aren’t proposing ideas that would explode the deficit far more than tuition-free college. Marco Rubio’s puppies and rainbows tax plan was estimated to cost $2.5 trillion over 10 years and that’s before he included the elimination of ALL capital gains taxes, which would cost at least another $500 billion. That’s more than 30 years of tuition-free college. Rubio also wants to explode defense spending and thrust us toward a war with Iran — a country larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined — that would cost trillions and trillions of dollars.
Now, tuition-free college isn’t debt-free college. But it’s a start.
In America, we can afford anything that helps the rich or fuels war, but all we offer most students is empty platitudes fit for a Whitney Houston song. A plan to fund all students’ public college for free is also part of the Center for American Progress’ excellent Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity, which is said to be the foundation of Clinton’s economic proposals. Sanders’ plan goes further and would fund college with a new tax that encourages reform in Wall Street.
If we did that, it would almost as if we’d learned something from the worst financial crisis in our lifetime.