Sen. Bernie Sanders directly defended his plan to eliminate public college tuition after his fellow Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg criticized it, pushing back against the mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s accusations that free public college is both elitist and regressive.
“I say Buttigieg is wrong on both counts,” Sanders said during an interview on MSNBC on Thursday night.
Earlier in the week, Buttigieg claimed that Sanders and his progressive counterpart Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who also supports tuition-free public college, were inadvertently sending the message that “you need a college degree in order to get by in life.” He also doubled down on his previous argument that rich Americans should not benefit from free public college and still be required to pay tuition.
“I have nothing against them,” Buttigieg said on the campaign trail on Monday. “I just think if you’re in a position to pay full freight, then you should.”
Under Buttigieg's $500 billion college affordability plan, public college would be tuition-free for households earning under $100,000. But Sanders has laid out an ambitious plan to eliminate tuition and fees at two- and four-year public universities that would be paid for by a tax on Wall Street. He also proposed erasing the roughly $1.7 trillion in student loan debt currently owed in the U.S.
"Pete believes we should remove cost as a barrier for Americans whether they attend a four-year college, two-year college, or trade school," a spokesperson for the Buttigieg campaign told FOX Business. "Unlike Sens. Warren and Sanders, he doesn't believe giving free tuition to the children of wealthy Americans is the best way to achieve that goal."
Sanders noted that his plan covers trade schools and other college alternatives. Buttigieg’s college plan excludes trade schools and is limited to traditional four-year colleges and community colleges, as first reported by the Huffington Post. (His campaign noted that Buttigieg would invest $10 billion over a decade to make community colleges more affordable and $50 billion in workforce development and apprenticeships).
“There are millions of good jobs out there in construction and all kinds of areas where people are good at working with their hands, and they don’t want to go to college,” Sanders said.
He compared the benefits of free public college to other universal social programs, such as Social Security and Medicare. Instead of limiting access to the programs, Sanders said income inequality should be addressed by raising taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street.
“I’m very glad that Mr. Buttigieg is worried that I have been too easy on upper-income people and the millionaires and billionaires,” he said. “That I’m going to allow their kids to go to public colleges and universities just, by the way, as they do go to public schools right now. Trump’s kids can go to any public school ― elementary school, high school ― in the country ‘tuition free.’”