President Joe Biden confirmed on Thursday that he’s considering canceling “some” amount of federal student loan debt but emphatically ruled out acceding to progressive demands to forgive as much as $50,000 per borrower.
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction.”
White House advisers have said for months that they have been looking at the possibility of using executive action to cancel debt. But they’ve emphasized Biden’s preference for Congress to pass legislation canceling $10,000 of debt per borrower – which is the amount of loan forgiveness that Biden endorsed on the campaign trail. Biden has previously said he was opposed to canceling as much as $50,000 per borrower.
The president’s remarks on Thursday confirmed his private conversation with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus earlier this week in which he was widely reported to express a willingness to take executive action on student debt relief.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has repeatedly called on Biden to take executive action to cancel $50,000 of debt, said on Wednesday that he thought Biden was “moving in our direction” and “getting closer” to doing so.
Biden pushed back on Schumer’s assessment of his position on student debt on Thursday. Asked by a reporter about Schumer’s comments, Biden responded: “You mean my spokesman said that?”
“I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there will be additional debt forgiveness,” Biden said, adding that he expected to make a decision on the issue “in the next couple of weeks.”
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, whose agency would be responsible for carrying out any sweeping loan forgiveness plan, said on Thursday he wants such a plan to be paired with other reforms.
“We have an opportunity now to not only provide broad-base relief” but also “fix the broken systems that got us to where we are,” Cardona said in a brief interview on Thursday following Biden’s remarks. “All that in combination is something that we should be considering.”
As Biden weighs a decision on widespread debt cancellation, the Education Department has so far taken a more piecemeal approach to canceling debt.
Education Department officials have expanded and streamlined existing programs that provide loan forgiveness to targeted populations of borrowers, such as those working in public service jobs, students who were defrauded by their college and individuals who become severely disabled.
Department officials on Thursday unveiled their latest batch of loan forgiveness: $238 million for some 28,000 borrowers who attended a now-defunct chain of for-profit beauty schools.
James Kvaal, the undersecretary of education, who oversees higher education and student loan issues, said Thursday that the department was focused on “working really hard to deliver where we have the authority to act.”
Progressives, however, argue that Biden does have the authority to cancel large amounts of debt and should go much further than he has already. They say Biden needs to fulfil his campaign pledge to wipe out at least $10,000 of debt per borrower as way to energize the base of the Democratic Party ahead of a tough midterm election this fall.
Republicans, meanwhile, have uniformly been opposed to the type of broad-based debt cancellation that Biden is considering.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), for example, blasted the possibility of student debt cancellation on Wednesday as a “bribe” that Democrats would be offering voters. “Desperate polls call for desperate measures,” he said in a tweet.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would restrict the Education Department’s power to continue to suspend federal student loan payments and cancel large amounts of debt. That legislation isn’t going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Congress but some conservatives are already calling for a significant response from the GOP if Biden moves ahead with canceling student debt.
Writing in National Review on Wednesday, conservative commentator Charles C. W. Cooke said that Republicans should respond by shutting down the entire federal student loan program and potentially impeaching Biden for an abuse of executive authority.
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