First Lady’s pet project scrapped in latest Build Back Better revision

by mcardinal

Chris Lange, FISM News


First Lady Jill Biden is dropping her signature legislative initiative that would have provided two years of “free,” taxpayer-funded community college to American students as well as children of illegal immigrants. 

With a price tag of $109 billion, the measure was tucked inside her husband’s massive social spending package, currently stalled in the Senate. President Biden promised free college tuition on the campaign trail and Jill Biden, a long-time educator, took it up as a pet project when her husband took office.

The First Lady made the announcement during Monday’s College National Legislative Summit in Washington D.C., saying she is “disappointed” the initiative had to be cut.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed, creating millions of new jobs—along with potential opportunities to train for in-demand skills. But Joe has also had to make compromises. Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better agenda—yet. And free community college is no longer a part of that package,” she said, adding, “We knew this wouldn’t be easy—Joe has always said that.

College tuition in America has skyrocketed over the last four decades, increasing by a whopping 169% between 1980 and 2019. A 2020 report on college tuition data published by the Manhattan Institute shows that costs for public two-year in-district, public four-year in-state, and private nonprofit four-year colleges increased by at least 20% over the last 20 years.

Still, tuition cost increases were surprisingly low last year at 1.3% for public two-year colleges and 1.6% for public schools with four-year-degree programs. Private non-profit four-year students paid an extra 2.1% between 2020 and 2021, according to College Board’s pricing report. At some point, however, the nation’s unprecedented inflation numbers are likely to be reflected in tuition rates. According to Finaid, a public source for student financial aid and tuition information, costs for higher education typically increase at roughly twice the general inflation rate.  

Public community colleges remain a much more affordable option for working-class students, with an average annual cost of $4,864 for in-state students and $8,622 for out-of-state students, according to a summary of tuition statistics published by Community College Review. The average figure for private two-year community colleges jumps to $15,100. 

It remains to be seen if this latest excision to Build Back Better, currently on life support, will impact ongoing debate in the Senate. The bill passed in the House back in November.

In their struggle to resuscitate the progressive climate and social welfare package, Senate Dems have been forced to weed out certain spending provisions in an effort to persuade party holdouts Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to back it. The two moderate Democrats have expressed concern over the bill’s massive budget, which has been winnowed down from an estimated $4.91 trillion to roughly $1.75 trillion – the less-than-transparent price tag attached to the first iteration of the bill. A recent U.S. Treasury report indicating that the country has amassed a record-breaking $30 trillion in debt may have served to further entrench the two Senators into their positions. 

Meanwhile, as Democrats continue gutting portions of Build Back Better, many Americans who voted for Biden are growing increasingly pessimistic that the administration will be able to deliver on other ambitious campaign promises that helped secure his 2020 victory. Millennial voters, in particular, hoped to benefit from then-candidate Biden’s vow to legislate student loan forgiveness. A recent poll conducted by The Economist and YouGov indicates that, while 21% of voters still believe Biden can make “a lot” or “some” progress in canceling roughly $1.61 trillion worth of federal student loan debt, the majority of Americans (59%) now say the plan isn’t likely to come to fruition.