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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: To pay off student loans 'I had to do something that was nearly impossible'

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference announcing college affordability legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 24, 2019. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is proposing to cancel the nation's outstanding $1.6 trillion of student debt and offsetting the cost with a tax on Wall Street transactions.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

She's exceptional in so many ways, but like many other Americans her age, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has student loans. 

According to her 2018 financial disclosure, the Congresswoman is paying off between $15,000 and $50,000 in student loans. On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez referenced her student loan balance during a press conference introducing the College for All Act. Sponsored by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Senator Bernie Sanders, the bill aims to eliminate "all $1.6 trillion in student debt for 45 million Americans."

"I have student loans, too," Ocasio-Cortez told reporters. "I think it's so funny, a year ago, I was waiting tables in a restaurant and it was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt."

She continued that "in order for me to get a chance to have healthcare, in order for me to get a chance to pay off my student loans, I had to do something that was nearly impossible. And I don't think that that is the bar through which a person should be able to access education, healthcare and a bevy of other things that should be considered human rights."

Ocasio-Cortez is not the only representative with student loans. In 2018, Roll Call estimated that 10% of Congress held student debt, either personally or for a family member. Of 530 voting members of the 115th Congress (431 members of the House of Representatives and 99 Senators, minus vacancies), 53 listed owing a total of $1.8 million in student loans in their financial disclosures.

Former President Barack Obama has also previously spoken about how he and the former first lady were paying off student debt well into their 40s.

"We each graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt. And even though we got good jobs, we barely finished paying it off just before I was elected to the U.S. Senate," Obama told an audience in Buffalo, New York. "I mean, I was in my 40s when we finished paying off our debt. And we should have been saving for Malia and Sasha by that time."

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Student loan debt, said Ocasio-Cortez, is causing "a systemic, economy-wide threat of grinding our economy to a halt" because people of her generation are not purchasing houses or homes but are instead focused on repaying student debt.

The College for All Act would eliminate tuition and fees at all public four-year colleges and universities, community colleges and trade schools. The lawmakers suggests funding the estimated $2.2 trillion cost of the bill with a tax on Wall Street transactions. Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues say that the ambitious proposal is an important part of ending the cycle of student debt.

"What we tell 17-year-olds all the time is that you are not old enough or responsible enough to drink, you are not old enough or responsible enough to vote, you are not old enough or responsible enough to serve in our military, but you are old enough and responsible enough to take on a quarter million dollars worth of debt," she said.

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference announcing college affordability legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 24, 2019. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is proposing to cancel the nation's outstanding $1.6 trillion of student debt and offsetting the cost with a tax on Wall Street transactions.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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