Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren called US education secretary Betsy DeVos an “unqualified billionaire” after she criticised proposals for student loan forgiveness.
Ms Devos criticised proposals similar to ones included in President-elect Joe Biden’s economic recovery plan, which would forgive $10,000 (£7,516) individually for people who have borrowed student loans, according to Newsweek.
Speaking at an Education Department financial aid conference on Tuesday, Ms DeVos said: “We’ve heard shrill calls to cancel, to forgive, to make it all free,” and added: “Any innocuous label out there can’t obfuscate what it really is: Wrong.”
The education secretary also described the idea of loan forgiveness as “the truly insidious notion of government gift giving.”
In a tweet on Tuesday evening, Ms Warren, who is a vocal proponent of debt forgiveness, responded to the remarks, writing: “Because we were all just dying to know what the unqualified billionaire who made this problem worse thinks about helping people.”
Because we were all just dying to know what the unqualified billionaire who made this problem worse thinks about helping people. https://t.co/rm6UiIywlC
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 2, 2020
The senator’s response seemed to be referencing Ms DeVos’ opposition to “borrower defence to repayment,” which is a programme that was introduced in 1994 to allow students to cancel loans if they were misled by their colleges when borrowing.
During former President Barack Obama’s administration, the Department of Education adopted a rule that made it easier for students to have their federal loans forgiven as part of the programme.
However, under Ms Devos’ leadership as part of the Trump administration, the department has made it harder for students to qualify for the support.
The administration has widely denied applications to have student loans forgiven and has limited who can qualify for the programme.
Although Mr Biden has suggested that he will forgive $10,000 of student loans, high-profile Democratic politicians have urged him to cancel $50,000 (£37,587) of individual student loan debts.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, alongside progressive politicians Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, has pushed the president-elect to cancel the debt to help the post-coronavirus economic recovery.
According to statistics from the Federal Reserve, around 45 million Americans make up $1.6 trillion (£1.2 trillion) of student debt in the US.
During his presidential campaign, Mr Biden announced plans to enact legislation to allow students to attend community college for up to two years without having to pay tuition.
While he also adopted a proposal from progressive Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, to make university and college tuition free for students whose family incomes are below $125,000 (£93,239).
Speaking on Tuesday, Ms DeVos described a tuition-free college as “a matter of total government control” and “a socialist takeover of higher education”.
Ms DeVos added that the policy could “break our already fragile economy” and would be “fundamentally unfair” to US residents who do not attend college or university.
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