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D.C. Memo: Biden finally acts on student loans, Twin Metals sues, progressives have mixed record in primaries

Plus: Americans concerned about democracy and I’m heading to Minnesota!

President Joe Biden, flanked by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, speaking about administration plans to forgive federal student loan debt in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden, flanked by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, speaking about administration plans to forgive federal student loan debt in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON — After taking a short vacation in Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach, President Joe Biden this week made a long-expected announcement about student debt.

The Biden administration would extend its current pause on student loan repayment through the end of the year and announced a new program that would forgive as much as $20,000 in student debt for borrowers whose income falls below $125,000 a year.

The president used his executive authority to propose that students who qualified would have up to $10,000 in debt forgiven. Those who received Pell Grants could  qualify for an extra $10,000 in cancellation. But loans obtained after June 30 are not eligible for relief.

“In keeping with my campaign promise, my Administration is announcing a plan to give working and middle-class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023,” the president said in a Twitter post that outlined details of his plan.

Biden also said those with undergraduate loans would be able to cap their payments at 5% of their monthly income. The current payment cap is generally 10% of a borrower’s discretionary income.

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Republicans immediately criticized Biden’s plan as inflationary. Meanwhile, some Democrats said it will not go far enough to help those with crushing student debt, especially low-income minorities.

“While this partial cancellation is an important step, it’s not nearly enough,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, in a statement. “Right now, student debt is holding thousands of people across my district back from homeownership, opening a business, starting a family, or saving for the future. A full cancellation of student debt will ensure all borrowers can achieve economic dignity.”

Meanwhile, some moderate Democrats criticized the plan, saying it would not tackle the systemic problem of the high cost of a college education. Other Democratic lawmakers from swing states and districts echoed Republican complaints that Biden’s plan unfairly would make taxpayers who’ve paid off their student loans and those who did not attend college pay for the student loan cancellations.

According to the Education Data Initiative, Minnesota ranks 33rd among the states and the District of Columbia (which ranks 1st) in the average amount of student loan debt, which is $33,604.

Other statistics:

  • State residents owe a total of $26.5 billion in student loan debt.
  • 788,600 student borrowers live in Minnesota.
  • 57.8% of them are under the age of 35.
  • 8% of state residents have student loan debt.

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Progressives have mixed record in primaries

New York’s primaries on Tuesday showed continued victories of more moderate Democrats over progressives as the left wing of the party has lost some of its earlier impetus.

In that Empire State primary, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-18th, defeated progressive primary challenger state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi – who had the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – by more than 20 points.

And Dan Goldman, a former Trump impeachment counsel, defeated three progressive rivals – State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, Rep. Mondaire Jones and New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera, in the race for New York’s 10th District.

In Florida on Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, who was once the state’s Republican governor, handily defeated the much more progressive Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in the Democratic primary that determined who would run against GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in the fall.

Tuesday’s primaries were the last major ones before November’s elections.

Progressive candidates lost in earlier primary contests, too. In Texas, progressive Jessica Cisneros lost an extremely close runoff race to Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is the last anti-abortion Democrat serving in the House. Progressive Nina Turner lost her rematch primary race against more moderate Rep. Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, and in Maryland former Rep. Donna Edwards was defeated by Glen Ivey, a more centrist candidate.

Earlier this month, in Minnesota’s DFL primary, Rep. Betsy McCollum easily brushed off a challenge from the left in the state’s 4th District by Amane Badhasso. Meanwhile, “Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar narrowly defeated ore centrist rival Don Samuels by only about 2.5 percentage points, a surprise since Omar has easily knocked off previous rivals in the 5th.

Progressives have had some wins this year, however. For instance, in Florida on Tuesday, progressive 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost won a primary race for a House seat being vacated by Representative Val Demings, who’s running for Senate. If Frost wins the general election, he would be the first member of Congress from Generation Z.

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Twin Metals takes Biden administration to court

The latest chapter in the long-running saga over the fate of a proposed Twin Metals copper and nickel mine continued this week when the mining company sued the Biden administration over the cancellation of leases in the Rainy River Watershed.

The leases were scrapped by the Biden administration in January over concerns the new underground mine could contaminate major recreational waterway, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota.

It is difficult to successfully sue the federal government, which is protected by sovereign immunity. Yet Twin Metals and its subsidiary Franconia Minerals has targeted the Interior Department and its top officials, claiming the “arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful evisceration of Twin Metals’ mineral rights.”

Filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the lawsuit said that after the Trump administration approved the leases, Twin Metals “redoubled its efforts to progress a state-of-the-art, environmentally sound mine.”

It called the revocation of the leases “constituted nothing less than an unlawful attempt to rewrite the policy choices that Congress has made about the proper balance between environmental concerns and the availability of mining on public lands.”

The lawsuit was filed as the U.S. Forest Service is preparing to issue a final recommendation to the Interior Department concerning a proposed moratorium on mining in 225,378 acres of Superior National Forest, which is located in the Rainy River watershed that feeds the Boundary Waters Wilderness area.

Becky Rom, the national chairman of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, a coalition of about 400 environmental groups, said those fighting the establishment of an underground mine in the watershed will join the federal government in fighting the lawsuit and ask it be rejected by the court.

“It’s definitely a political complaint,” Rom said. “They don’t have a leg to stand on.”

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Rom also said she believed Twin Metals filed the lawsuit to keep the leases issue alive until the 2024 presidential election, with the hopes a Republican win would give the mining company a chance to renew their leases.

Poll: Americans concerned about ‘threats to democracy’

An NBC News poll released this week showed that 68% of Americans believe the country is in recession. Fully 50% of those polled said things will get worse economically before they get better and Biden’s overall approval ratings are still deeply underwater (42% approve, 55% disapprove). But the president’s ratings on the economy have improved bit – 40 % of the poll’s respondents said they approve of the way the president is handling the economy, while 56% said they disapprove.

The poll found something much more surprising, perhaps due to Congress’ Jan. 6 hearings on the assault of the U.S. Capitol, or the controversy over former President Trump’s handling of classified documents the FBI has retrieved at Mar-a-Lago. (The New York Times reported that 300 pages of classified documents were retrieved, but Trump supporters say the seizure was unlawful.)

The NBC poll said “threats to democracy” has emerged as the top issue for voters, followed by the cost of living, jobs and the economy, and immigration.

 Abandoning D.C. for Minnesota

This week, Washington, D.C. returned to what it once was when I was a child, a sleepy Southern town. Lawmakers are back in their states and bureaucrats and other residents are vacationing at the beach or elsewhere before children return to school. You can actually drive on the Beltway now.

I am leaving Washington, too, to visit Minnesota and attend, for the first time, the State Fair (I’m told food is served on sticks there!). I expect I’ll look a little lost.

So, if anyone wants to provide me with tips on what to see (and eat) at the fair of the Twin Cities area, please do. My only regret is not being able to spend more time in Minnesota and visit more of the state. But I hope there will be a next time, so all information will be greatly appreciated!