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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

So, what will be the political fallout of the Supreme Court ruling that killed President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan? Monica Potts explores the possibilities at FiveThirtyEight and writes: “The ruling could have big implications for the 2024 election. Now, borrowers will have to start repaying student loans at the end of the summer without any relief. It’s possible that the people who had looked forward to student loan forgiveness will blame the court for the decision. But it’s also possible that the court’s decision will backfire on Biden. Family budgets, already squeezed by persistent inflation, are likely to be even more so when payments resume, and some voters may see it as a broken promise — one that many Democrats really wanted Biden to fulfill….There’s a big divide among Americans about whether student loan forgiveness is a good thing at all, with very strong opinions on either side of the aisle. Biden and others have argued that the size of student debt — more than $1.75 trillion held by roughly 45 million Americans — is holding back the economy, contributes to generational inequality by heavily burdening young people, and hurts the 20 percent of student borrowers who ultimately default anyway….During his 2020 campaign, Biden had promised student loan relief, and a majority (64 percent) of Americans think student loan debt is a very or somewhat serious problem, including 56 percent of Biden voters and 51 percent of Democrats who think it’s a very serious problem. Some form of student loan relief was an issue during the 2020 Democratic primary season, and Biden’s proposal was popular with the Democratic base. Black voters strongly supported it, by 79 percent, and so did Hispanic voters, at 54 percent; among all adults in those demographics, support was 77 and 52 percent, respectively. College graduates favored it by 65 to 35, according to a Marquette University Law School poll. So did those with advanced degrees, by 64 percent, and, perhaps surprisingly, those with less than a high school education by 80 to 20. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a USA Today/Ipsos survey from April found that 83 percent of student loan debt-holders viewed Biden’s plan favorably….

Potts continues, “Student loan forgiveness was also especially popular with young people. Majorities of adults under 45 thought the Department of Education should have the authority to forgive student loan debt: 59 percent of adults under 30 and 54 percent of adults aged 30 to 44, according to a survey from The Economist/YouGov taken in May. The poll from Marquette University Law School found the exact same percentages for registered voters in those age groups viewed Biden’s plan favorably, and so did all adults under 60….Will Biden voters be disappointed in his administration if he can’t find a way to move the plan forward? It’s possible they will blame the Supreme Court, which has seen its popularity take a beating after a series of decisions that push against majority public sentiment. Fifty-eight percent of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court, and only 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents view the court favorably. There’s a good chance that Democratic voters will blame the Supreme Court more than Biden for striking down his plan….But the economic costs of the plan’s failure may weigh more on Biden as he seeks reelection. A Penn Wharton analysis has found that Biden’s plan, two-thirds of which would benefit low- and middle-income borrowers, could cost as much as $1 trillion. However, there’s also a cost to resuming student-loan payments, as the administration is now obligated to do, in the form of reduced economic activity, which could be a drag on an already shaky economy. A Civic Science poll from June 13 to 14 found that a majority, 58 percent, of student loan debt-holders were at least somewhat concerned about being able to make payments….What happens to the economy may matter more than the success or failure of any given Biden proposal, and voters are already inclined to disapprove of Biden’shandling of the economy. If student loan burdens make people feel even worseabout their finances, that could spell bad news for his reelection campaign.” There’s always the possibility that supporters and opponents of the student loan forgiveness plan will cancel each other out on Election Day, or that it will be old news as new headlines about different issues dominate the news 15 months from now.

Did President Biden blunder in saying “I think if we start the process of trying to expand the court, we’re going to politicize it, maybe forever in a way that is not healthy”? Biden made the comment in an interview with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace before the Court nuked his student loan forgiveness initiative. No one in politics has more experience with the Supreme Court confirmation process than Biden, a former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But why toss away a potential bargaining chip?  Victor Reklaitis notes that “In October 2020, Biden promised to establish a bipartisan commission to study reforms for the federal judiciary, including expanding the Supreme Court. The commission issued a report in December 2021 but didn’t offer a recommendation on the issue of expanding the court.” Down the road Biden could have used the threat of court expansion to get some leverage for other kinds of Supreme Court reform, including ethics, term limits, transparency measures, confirmation procedure etc.  Court expansion is a moot issue until Democrats have a working majority of both houses of congress, which may not happen for a long time. But in such a closely divided congress it could also happen pretty fast. Biden’s comment may have pleased some moderate Democrats and a lot of Republicans, but progressives and liberals who believe that the Republicans have packed the Court already have good reason to complain. As Jordan Rubin notes at msnbc.com, “Nicolle pressed Biden on whether he’s worried the court might do too much harm given the majority is so young and so conservative. Biden agreed but he raised the concern about politicizing the court in a way that can’t be undone. Of course, that ship sailed long ago.” Liberals also  argue that it’s a defeatist precedent to let Mitch McConnell get away with his betrayal of the bipartisan agreement on process in the way he stiffed Merrick Garland and greased the skids for Gorsuch. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Republicans play hardball on Supreme Court nominations, while Democrats play patty-cake and whine about it. Of course, there is always the possibility that President Biden could change his mind, as Supreme Court rulings become increasingly destructive.

Amy Walter addresses a question of interest, “Can Bidenomics Turn Gloomy Views on the Economy Around?” at The Cook Political Report. Noting that “voter opinions of the economy have become less predictive of the election outcome,” Walter observes, “Back in 2012, the campaign of Republican nominee Mitt Romney argued that the country’s pessimism about the state of the economy and their distrust of Barack Obama’s handling of it would ultimately doom the incumbent. In the end, Obama won rather handily, thanks in large part to his campaign’s ability to recast the debate from one about the state of the economy into one about who is best qualified to understand the struggles of average Americans….In 2018, the party in the White House lost control of the House, despite a robust economy. Why? Many voters who appreciated the job President Trump was doing on the economy were turned off by his polarizing style and behavior….In 2020, the pandemic-induced economic slow-down was a significant factor in Trump’s loss. But, just as important was the antipathy to Trump himself….By 2022, record inflation didn’t doom Democrats in the midterms. In fact, among the plurality of voters who rated the economy as “not so good,” 62% still voted for the incumbent party. Why? Voters’ concerns about the extremism exhibited by many of the Republican candidates proved to be more salient than their worries about the high rate of inflation….A recent Quinnipiac poll found that just 41% of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing on the economy. Yet, in a head-to-head matchup against Trump, Biden is at 48%. In other words, many of those who disapprove of the job he’s doing on the economy are voting for him anyway….Others argue that traditional measurements of voter opinion on the economy are ineffective. “Asking people about the economy is no longer a reliable measure of the state of the economy,” one Democratic strategist told me. “I don’t even think consumer confidence works anymore. Only behavior works as an indicator.”….Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg makes this point as well, and argues that the party needs to do a better job telling the story of the economy’s success under Biden.”

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