Biden Might Go It Alone on Student Loan Forgiveness

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That’s how few lawmakers President Joe Biden would have to persuade if he used his executive powers to broadly forgive outstanding federal student debt, a move he is now reportedly seriously considering. 

Invoking his authority to unilaterally forgive at least $10,000 in federal student loans for every borrower—an amount Biden supported during his campaign for president—would mean bypassing Congress, where even his fellow Democrats in the evenly divided Senate haven’t always supported his proposals. Indeed, as recently as December, his press secretary, Jen Psaki, signaled he was waiting for Congress to give him a bill to sign, so the focus on a unilateral move—admittedly the less permanent route and one that could face a challenge in courts—represents a shift.

“He is looking at other executive authority options he has to bring relief to people who have student loans,” Psaki said during a press conference Tuesday, when asked about reports on discussions he had during a meeting Monday with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

According to the Washington Post and other news outlets, Biden signaled to lawmakers in that closed-door meeting that he was prepared to take significant action on student debt, potentially granting some amount of forgiveness or extending the freeze on loan obligations beyond Aug. 31. And Psaki said earlier this month Biden would make a decision on forgiveness before Aug. 31 or extend the reprieve (which has halted interest and allowed borrowers to skip monthly payments since the start of the pandemic) beyond that date.

Wiping some or all of the slate clean would have a significant financial impact on the 37 million borrowers with $1.38 trillion in outstanding federal student loans, helping reduce racial inequities and allowing students to start businesses, buy homes, and do other things they’ve had to put off because of the huge financial burden of student debt, advocates say. But some Republican lawmakers have opposed it as a handout that is unfair to people who don’t have college degrees and would essentially be forced to pay (as taxpayers) for those who did attend school.

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  1. Twitter. “@JoeBiden, March 22, 2020.”

  2. The White House. “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, December 14, 2021.”

  3. The White House. “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and White House COVID-⁠19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.”

  4. Federal Student Aid. “Federal Student Loan Portfolio.”

  5. Bill Cassidy. “Cassidy, Thune, Burr, Braun, Marshall Introduce the Stop Reckless Student Loan Actions Act.”

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