In weekly calls and in meetings over the past few months, Hillary Clinton’s policy team has been soliciting input from policy experts with ties to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with the goal of making student loan reform the core of Clinton’s economic agenda.
The effort to make college more accessible — a litmus test for liberals and key to attracting grass-roots support on the left — comes as the Clinton campaign finds itself under increasing pressure to accommodate progressive demands. Yet it also could provide Clinton with a signature domestic policy issue, similar to health care for Barack Obama in 2008. With a student debt crisis climbing upward of $1.2 trillion, Clinton’s camp views the issue as one where the former secretary of state could drive the conversation and create a mandate for reform.
To the great relief of restive progressives, Clinton’s campaign has sought out policy experts with strong ties to Warren, who has crusaded on the issues of making college more affordable and refinancing student loans so that students get the same interest rates on federal loans as banks do on theirs.
Heather McGhee, president of the liberal think tank Demos, has discussed the issue directly with Hillary Clinton, sources said. McGhee’s think tank is aligned with Warren, whose daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, serves as chairwoman of the board of Demos.
Other experts who have also been involved in discussions with O’Leary and her team, sources said, include Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos; economist Gene Sperling; James Kvaal, who was Obama’s policy director in the 2012 election; and longtime Clinton advisere Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.