Thanks to President Biden’s seemingly endless vacations, Wednesday marked the first White House press briefing in 15 days and, not surprisingly, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s succinctness didn’t improve. Worst yet, it came as President Biden announced he would forgive $10,000 to $20,000 in student loans for millions of Americans. Sure enough, Fox’s Peter Doocy and Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann were locked and loaded.
Wegmann got her turn in the first portion of the briefing with NEC Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti when he asked Ramamurti whether it’s “really bottom up, middle out” considering the fact that they “structure[d] this policy in a way that would provide up to $40,000 in debt [relief] for a married couple making up to $249,000.”
Ramamurti insisted “it is” since “nobody in the top five percent of incomes is going to get a single dollar under this proposal” and there’s “good data showing that folks...near the top of the income cut off, are much likely to be experiencing distress after repayments start.”
New York Times Michael Shear surprisingly chose to be tough, asking Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice whether there’s “a worry that colleges will...now be incentivized to simply raise tuition rates since they know both because of the cancellation, but also because of the reduction in the maximum payment that people will have to pay.”
Rice demurred and instead argued it’s something the Department of Education will be watching.
Once her crutches (i.e. Ramamurti and Rice) were taken away, Jean-Pierre was on her own. Doocy eventually got his crack and, like usual, started with a short question: “[H]ow can the country afford such a massive handout?”
Jean-Pierre actually had the gall to reply that “Ambassador Rice said that she’s happy to have that discussion” and that it’s because Biden “brought down the deficit” by “$1.7 trillion” “at the end of the fiscal year.”
Doocy countered: “And might spend $300 to $900 billion extra. So you can do that and not increase the deficit?”
Jean-Pierre had already run out of bullets, so she spent the remaining three-plus minutes with Doocy insisting “we are doing this responsibly” as it’s “important for middle-class Americans” in alleged contrast to the 2017 tax cuts.
Doocy kept asking who’d cover the tab for these student loan wipeouts, but she had nothing (click “expand”):
DOOCY: Who’s paying for this?
JEAN-PIERRE: And that — again, here’s what we have done. Here’s what —
DOOCY: But you’re talking a lot about how much it might cost, it might not cost. Who is paying for this?
JEAN-PIERRE: What we are saying is the work that this administration has done, the work that the Democrats and Congress has done is actually there. And you see that the $1.7 trillion deficit — in deficit deduction that you see is going to benefit us in being able to do something for the middle class —
DOOCY: I understand, but you can’t just —
JEAN-PIERRE: — to do something for the middle class.
DOOCY: But when you forgive —
JEAN-PIERRE: This is about doing something for people who make less than $125,000. $1.7 trillion — that’s what we’ve been able to do.
DOOCY: But when you forgive debt, you’re not just disappearing debt, so who is paying for this?
JEAN-PIERRE: But — and then I’ll give you the second part: We lifted the pause, right? We’re going to lift the pause at the end of this year, which is going to matter — right? — which is going to offset a lot of what — what we’re doing as well. When you think about the — the $4 billion that are going — that’s going to go back into — as revenue back into this process of folks paying — paying — right? — their college tuition, that matters as well. So we’re doing this in a smart way. We’re doing this in a way that’s going to be effective. We’re doing in this a way that keeps the President’s promise on giving people who need some breathing room — who need some breathing room.
With that filibustering answer at the end, Doocy interjected to put a stop to this and asked six more times, but all Jean-Pierre could utter was that she had “laid out” how it’ll be done (click “expand”):
DOOCY: But somebody is paying for it. Who?
JEAN-PIERRE: I just — I just laid out — I just laid out for you —
JEAN-PIERRE: No, Peter, I just laid out for you how we’re seeing this process and why this matters.
DOOCY: Is it wealthy Americans? Is it corporations? Who is paying?
JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I just laid out —
DOOCY: Somebody has got to pay.
JEAN-PIERRE: — I just — I just laid out: Because of the work that we have done in the economy, because of the American Rescue Plan, because of the Inflation Reduction Act, and because all of this work that this President has done is actually — has brought down our deficit by $1.7 trillion, unlike what Republicans did when they added to our deficit $2 trillion and did not care at all or thought about how this was going to be paid for. They did not actually put in a process or thought — think about how we’re going to do this in a smart way. This is not how this administration is doing it. Again, we are happy to continue to have this conversation.
A few minutes earlier, CBS’s Christina Ruffini was Doocy-like in her persistence. She started by going back to Shear’s point and questioned whether “that's a tacit acknowledgment that, yes, these policies could cause tuition rates to rise in the near future even further than they already have.”
Of course, all Jean-Pierre did was state her agreement with Rice. After asking whether “it’s something” the federal government’s “preparing for,” Ruffini wondered if the feds will be kicking the can down the road: “Is the thought process tackle what you can address now, and if that causes college to be more expensive in the future, that's something you'll address later?”
Even the reporter on-hand for the ultra-liberal NPR wasn’t sold with Asma Khalid saying she was “still confused as to how the cycle of debt is broken” if new students taking on debt won’t have loans forgiven and colleges will keep raising costs.
Jean-Pierre repeatedly ducked, so Ruffini jumped back in and made it personal:
[I]t’s actually making it easier for people to take on more debt and there's nothing in this program that stops schools from — I mean, just anecdotally, my school raised tuition from when I was a freshmen to the time I was a senior. My scholarship didn't go with it, so then I had to take out private loans to cover it.
Ruffini’s colleague Kathryn Watson didn’t fare any better, even with the addition of questioning whether Biden was “ready to do more when it comes to addressing the underlying and ever-increasing cost of college.”
To see the relevant transcript from August 24's briefing, click here.