More than 80 congressional Democrats have called on President Joe Biden to release a long-awaited memo to the White House on whether the president has the executive power to forgive federal student loan debt.
The coalition of House and Senate progressives have been pressuring Biden to forgive $50,000 in federal student loan debt since he was sworn in, portraying it not just as a way to relieve the economic stress that disproportionately affects low-income black and Hispanic borrowers, but also as a liability to voters of color who played a crucial role in his election. Lawmakers argue that the executive authority Biden currently uses to cancel interest owed on all student loans held by the federal government — Section 432 of the Higher Education Act — is the same authority he could use to provide large-scale cancellation of student debt.
the letter is signed by top Democrats in the Senate, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as progressive darlings in the House , including Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Katie Porter of California.
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“Publishing the memo outlining your current authority to write off student debt and doing so generally is critical to making a meaningful difference in the lives of current students, borrowers, and their families,” they wrote. “It has been widely reported that the Ministry of Education had this memo since April 5, 2021 after being tasked with drafting it.”
Indeed, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said last April that the memo would be made public within weeks, and many of the same members of Congress who signed Wednesday’s letter have previously written to Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, asking them to release the memo to the public by Oct. 22.
“We urge you to use every tool at your disposal to bring relief to the millions of families inspired by your proposal to put a debt-free college degree within their reach by eliminating up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all families before payments resume.”
The renewed demand follows a failed attempt by Democrats to pass voting rights legislation to prevent GOP-controlled states from passing laws that make it harder for low-income people and people of lower income to vote. color. It also comes during a time of uncertainty over the president’s Build Back Better program – the $1.75 trillion proposal to address key progressive priorities such as climate change and childcare and education. universal preschool.
The past few months have produced a series of legislative fumbles, annoying the president’s progressive supporters, who are setting a tough timetable ahead of the 2022 midterm elections – a timetable that now includes filling an upcoming vacancy in the Supreme Court and the potential financing of military action. against Russia. And canceling federal student loan debt would appease the energizing wing of the Democratic Party that feels rejected.
Currently, approximately 45 million borrowers hold more than $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt. According to education department data36 million student borrowers would have their debt erased if Biden takes executive action to forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt.
But Biden has insisted he lacks the executive power to write off student loan debt.
Additionally, the President has never supported full federal student loan debt cancellation, even saying during his campaign that while he could support canceling up to $10,000 of student debt, he would not. didn’t think the president had the power to do that. He has repeatedly dismissed the idea since taking office, citing concerns over debt forgiveness for borrowers who graduated from elite schools like Harvard University – essentially buying into the idea that large-scale cancellation of student loan debt often benefits the wealthiest borrowers.
Most recently, in July, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supported the president in this longstanding understanding of his executive authority.
“People think the president of the United States has the power to cancel the debt,” the California Democrat said at a press conference. “He doesn’t. He can postpone, he can delay, but he doesn’t have that power. It has to be an act of Congress.”
Instead of canceling student loan debt, Biden said he’d rather use the money to provide early education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, make community college free for all — as well as four years of college. free state fees for families earning less than $125,000 a year — and dedicating more resources to historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions that often lack top-notch science and technology labs that can provide lucrative government contracts.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the memo and when it would be released, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Education told US News that the department “continues to work closely with the White House to consider additional debt cancellation options.