Vice President Joe Biden couldn't explicitly go after the Republican presidential candidates during his town-hall meeting on college affordability today in Gahanna, Ohio. It would have been unseemly to do so at an "official" White House event.
So Biden shadowboxed over the politics of reducing the burden of student debt - something Obama campaign strategists have made a signature issue for 2012 - with his favorite conservative newspaper columnist instead.
"George Will said, 'All this stuff about reducing debt and making sure you don't have to pay more than 10 percent of your disposable income in any one year.' He said, 'Look, the average college student, graduate will make on average, and does now, $20,000 a year more than a high school graduate. So why do they need the help?'"
"I guess he came from a different neighborhood," Biden said.
"I'm not being facetious. He makes a good intellectual point. But it really is about the choices you get to make when you graduate. If you graduate with a large debt, you don't get to make the choice to do the thing you may want to do."
Biden suggested the federal government should reduce or forgive students' debts so that jobs in traditionally low-paying, social interest jobs, such as nonprofits, education and social work, are not out of reach for some.
He touted the Obama administration's recent initiative to cap monthly payments for some student borrowers at 10 percent of discretionary income, saying such a step will "restore the bargain that's been broken" with the middle class. (He used similar language during a campaign webcast to New Hampshire voters on Tuesday night.)
"You should have a chance to pursue what you want to pursue," Biden said.
Will's column, from the Jan. 1, 2012, Washington Post, questioned the wisdom of such an approach to financing college education and said the administration's "bailout of young and privileged borrowers" was a political ploy.
"Political logic suggests that this year Obama will try to rekindle the love of young voters with some forgiveness of student debts. But one-third of students do not borrow to pay college tuition," Will wrote.
"The average debt for those who do borrow to attend a four-year public institution is $22,000 and the average difference between the per-year earnings of college graduates and those with only a high school diploma is … $22,000."