Sanders joins with House Democrats on bill to cancel student debt

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Salem, Oregon, U.S., May 10, 2016. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters via Courthouse News)

(CN) – Senator Bernie Sanders, considered a frontrunner in the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential race, announced a plan Monday to cancel all existing student loan debt and send everyone to college.

“If we could bail out Wall Street, we sure as hell can #CancelStudentDebt,” Sanders tweeted this morning.

The proposal, announced jointly with U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal, would make all public universities, community colleges and trade schools free while also providing federal Pell grants to students for other costs, such as books and fees.

Sanders proposes to pay for it by taxing Wall Street traders a fraction of a percentage depending on the type of transaction. He says this “Wall Street Speculation tax” will raise $2.4 trillion in the next decade.

The legislation is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives by Omar, a freshman congresswoman from Minnesota. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a fellow freshman from New York, also spoke at the press conference in favor of the plan.

Americans today are saddled with $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, and a surprising 3 million people age 60 or older are among the 1 in 5 Americans still paying for school. On average, debtors shell out $200 to $300 per month, according to figures from the Federal Reserve.

In April, Senator Elizabeth Warren first proposed canceling $50,000 per person’s student loan debt, as long as their household makes less than $100,000 per year.

The policy unveiled by Sanders today is the third piece of what he calls the “21st Century Bill of Rights.”

“The American people deserve freedom — true freedom,” Sanders said. “You are not truly free when you graduate college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt hanging around your neck. With this bill, not only will we guarantee the right of a good, public education for all from childcare and pre-kindergarten through college, we will free a generation from the outrageous burden of student loans by canceling all existing student debt.”

The Vermont senator’s campaign says the plan would create 1.5 million new jobs every year and boost the country’s economy by $1 trillion over the next decade.

Sanders also says the proposal would help close the racial wealth gap, since black graduates leave school with $7,400 more debt than their white counterparts, and pay it off more slowly, widening the gap to $25,000 within four years.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is leading in Democratic primary polls for the 2020 presidential election. According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden is polling at 35 percent, with Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren trailing behind him at 14 and 10 percent, respectively.