U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, April 9, 2015
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says the administration’s approach to funding would enable a program to offer two years of community college to “responsible students” tuition-free. Above, he delivers a speech on American policy in Iraq at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington April 9, 2015. Reuters/Gary Cameron

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden offered a couple of mechanisms that could fund the administration’s proposed program to provide two years of community college to “responsible students” tuition-free while delivering the White House’s weekly address Saturday. “Here’s what we propose,” he said. “Close loopholes for the wealthiest investors and levy a 0.07 percent fee on the biggest banks to discourage the kind of risky behavior that crashed our economy … a few years ago. Doing just that would pay for free community college -- and provide a leg up for working families through tax credits to cover necessities like child care.”

In delivering the administration’s weekly address, Biden was substituting for President Barack Obama, who is at the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City this weekend. The president proposed the so-called America’s College Promise program shortly before his annual State of the Union address in January.

“Our economy has gone from crisis to recovery … now to resurgence, with the longest streak of consecutive job growth ever recorded in the history of this country and more than all other advanced countries combined,” Biden said. “But to make sure everyone is part of this resurgence, we need to build on what we know widens the path to the middle class -- and you all know what it is, access to education.” He contended that by the end of this decade two of three American jobs would require an education beyond high school, ranging from an 18-week certificate to a two-year associate’s degree to a four-year bachelor’s degree to a doctorate.

The vice president noted educational levels have important effects on paychecks, pointing out: “Folks with an associate’s degree earn 25 percent more than someone who graduated just from high school. And folks who graduate with a four-year degree make 70 percent more.”

However, Biden said: “The cost of higher education is too high for too many Americans. Too many folks are priced out of a piece of the middle-class dream.” To solve this problem, he said the administration developed its “straightforward plan to remove that barrier and expand the pathway to the middle class -- by bringing the cost of community colleges down -- down to zero. Zero, for anyone willing to work for it and for the institutions that meet certain basic requirements.”

In addition, he said, “Under our plan, students from low-income families will be able to keep the benefits that flow from other financial aid, like Pell grants, to cover child care, housing, transportation -- costs that often keep them from attending class and completing a degree in the first place.”

Tellingly, the Democratic vice president did not once mention the Republican-controlled Congress during the White House’s weekly address.

Appearing on the House Republican Conference’s online site around the time of Obama’s State of the Union address, a commentary by Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana indicated the education proposal stood little or no chance of passage during the current session. The representative wrote: “The plan, deemed ‘America’s College Promise,’ fails to address one of the biggest issues facing college students: cost. Shifting responsibility from individuals to the taxpayer will not cut costs. There is no incentive to make college more affordable.”

Here’s a video of Biden delivering the White House’s weekly address Saturday: