The burgeoning policy war between the candidates vying to face Trump in 2020 is set to escalate dramatically today, with Bernie Sanders announcing plans to eliminate all $1.6 trillion (£1.25 trillion) of student debt held in the US.
Sanders, who is polling second to former vice-president Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination, will propose introducing a new tax on financial transactions in order to fund wiping the debts of 45m Americans.
The proposal is part of a wider reform package, which also includes making eradicating tuition fees at public universities, community colleges and trade schools.
“This is truly a revolutionary proposal: all Americans will get the college education or job training they need, while having all student debt forgiven,” Sanders said in a tweet.
His campaign says a proposed Wall Street tax, which includes a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions and a 0.1 percent tax on bonds, would raise $2 trillion over 10 years to fund the policy.
“We bailed out Wall Street in 2008. It’s time to tax Wall Street’s greed to help the American people,” the Vermont senator added.
Sanders, who was defeated by Hillary Clinton in the nomination race for 2016’s presidential election, previously proposed cutting tuition fees but has not addressed existing student debt until now.
His new campaign proposal arrives as the firebrand socialist faces growing pressure from fellow senator Elizabeth Warren, whose proposals to revitalise America’s middle class have drawn many to compare her with Sanders. Warren has beaten Sanders in some recent polling, but both are substantially behind Biden at this early stage.
Sanders’ proposal is broader and more expensive than that of Warren, who has unveiled plans for a partial debt-relief program costing around $640bn.
US federal data shows student debt has risen sharply over the past two decades, from $90bn to the $1.6 trillion figure where it currently stands.
Critics of the candidates’ plans have pointed to their enormous costs, and noted that student debt relief tends to disproportionately affect already-affluent people.
“The cost will march toward $3 trillion and benefit a lot of wealthy families and future high-earners,” Brian Riedl, an analyst at the libertarian-leaning Manhattan Institute think tank told the Washington Post. “Of all problems requiring a $3 trillion federal expenditure, the college costs of middle- and upper-class college graduates seem lower-priority.”