Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and two congressional representatives proposed legislation Monday to cancel $1.6 trillion in student loans by placing a tax on Wall Street transactions.
"This proposal completely eliminates student debt in this country and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation, the millennial generation, to a lifetime of debt," Sanders said in announcing the U.S. Senate bill.
"The American people bailed out Wall Street," Sanders said, referring to the U.S. government $700 billion bailout in 2008 after banks overextended loans to risky borrowers and created a massive financial crisis. "Now, it is time for Wall Street to come to the aid of the middle class of this country."
"Millennials generally have higher student debt than prior generations," economics and tax expert William Gale wrote in a Brookings Institution report published in March. "They are marrying, buying homes and having children later."
The Great Recession in 2007-2009 significantly reduced household wealth, Gale wrote, "which has only slowly recovered since then."
Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, said his plan would wipe out college debt for 45 million Americans and be funded with a tax on stock, bond and derivatives transactions that would raise about $2.2 trillion over 10 years.
Student debt has become a national issue and other presidential candidates are also addressing it, in part, to appeal to younger voters. Those voters -- age 18 to millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996 -- recently became the largest voting bloc in the U.S., overtaking older or baby boomer voters.
"RT if you paid off your student debt and are perfectly fine with everyone else's being canceled," tweeted Ken Klippenstein, which received 31,000 likes and 13,000 retweets on Twitter.
"I am $180k in debt. I have a PHD and am a tenured professor - my students are in the same boat, sinking in debt. I pay $1100/month in student loan debt, half of my rent," tweeted Heather Gautney. "We MUST #CancelStudentDebt. Wall St got bailed out, what about us?! #bernie2020" Gautney's tweet received nearly 600 comments, including questions about why students spend large amounts of money to acquire a college education, like a comment from Sharlene Smith.
"I worked to help put myself through college and when I graduated I had zero debt, no sympathy here. Took a little longer, but hey I also retired early. It is called take care of your self and planning!" Smith tweeted.
"When did you go to school?" asked Brian Hickling in a response to Smith. "It's radically more expensive now."
The proposal builds on Sanders' long-standing call to make public universities and colleges tuition-free. Sanders' effort at one-upmanship on student loans, named the College For All Act, would cancel $1.6 trillion of debt and save the average borrower about $3,000 a year, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The result would be a stimulus that allows millennials, in particular, to invest in homes and cars that they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. It would cost $2.2 billion and be paid for by a series of taxes on such things as stock trades, bonds and derivatives, according to the proposal.
Democrats, including presidential rivals Senator Elizabeth Warren and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, have proposed smaller student-debt cancellation plans.
Warren has proposed canceling $50,000 in student loan debt for anyone with annual household income under $100,000 and giving substantial cancellation to those making between $100,000 and $250,000. She proposed paying for the plan with a tax on wealthy families. The key difference is that Warren's plan considers the income of the borrowers, canceling $50,000 in debt for those earning less than $100,000 per year and affecting an estimated 42 million people in the U.S.
Sanders appeared at a news conference with Democratic U.S. Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who joined him in proposing the legislation.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.