WASHINGTON — Jill Biden said Monday that the administration's priority of providing two years of tuition-free community college won't be wrapped into any social spending bill congressional Democrats try to pass.
“One year ago, I told this group that Joe was going to fight for community colleges,” the first lady said in remarks before the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington.
“But Joe has also had to make compromises. Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better agenda — yet," she added in her remarks, which were first reported by The New York Times. "And free community college is no longer a part of that package.”
The first lady, who teaches English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College, said she was "disappointed" once it became clear that the community college plan couldn't be included in the legislation. She said "these aren't just bills and budgets to me."
"We know what they mean for real people, for our students," she said. "We’ve seen how entire towns can be transformed when community colleges and private companies work together to train students for jobs that are desperately needed — with skills like manufacturing or modernizing our electrical grid."
President Joe Biden told progressive lawmakers on Capitol Hill last October that the free community college provisions were expected to be dropped from the Build Back Better package. A few days later, Biden promised that he would still make free community college a reality during his first term in office.
“I’m going to get it done,” Biden said during a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper. “And if I don't, I’ll be sleeping alone for a long time,” he said, alluding to the efforts of his wife to champion the measure.
In his American Families Plan, Biden initially proposed that Congress appropriate $109 billion for two years of free community college "so that every student has the ability to obtain a degree or certificate," a White House release said. The plan would have included so-called Dreamers who had been brought to the U.S. by their migrant parents as children.
As for the Build Back Better legislation, negotiations among Democrats collapsed late last year after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., publicly declared his opposition to the bill. Democrats are trying to salvage what they can and potentially pass it in a smaller form.
Last week, Manchin said the current version of Build Back Better was "dead," but he's open to a new round of talks with the White House.
“What Build Back Better bill?” Manchin told reporters when asked if some policies belong in that legislation. “It’s dead."