By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Officials in President Joe Biden’s administration say he is considering forgiving student loan debt for millions of Americans, according to media reports.
According to the Education Data Initiative, average student loan balances have nearly tripled since 1980. The country’s total balance for all borrowers is more than $1.7 trillion. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden pledged to support $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for every borrower.
“At a time when families are feeling the pain of high prices, the president’s proposal will only make inflation worse,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said. “Our bill will hold the administration accountable and make sure taxpayers are not stuck paying other people’s student loan debt.”
Barrasso, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis and other Republican lawmakers have attempted to get ahead of the issue, introducing The Debt Cancellation Accountability Act, which would require the U.S. Department of Education to obtain an express appropriation from Congress to pay for any federal student loan debts the Department proposes to waive, discharge, or reduce on a mass amount of loans with a total sum greater than $1 million.
Since taking office, Biden has been reluctant to use his authority to issue an executive order that would allow him to proceed with forgiving student loans without supporting legislation passed by Congress.
Presidential executive orders are mandates from a head of state that carry a similar weight to federal law, but can be instantly revoked by a future president.
Many of those advocating for student loan forgiveness say shoring up debt will allow people to buy homes and start small businesses.
Those who say Biden does have the authority to dictate a loan forgiveness order, point to the Higher Education Act (HEA), which says the President, via the Secretary of Education, can “compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand” associated with federal student loans.
According to Forbes Magazine, in 2021 Biden directed federal attorneys to draft a legal analysis to determine whether the HEA or other laws give him the authority to enact student loan forgiveness without Congress.
In a recent federal court filing, the Biden administration signaled a view that it does have some legal authority to enact a forgiveness order, mentioning the Secretary of Education’s “considerable discretion under the HEA to compromise and settle claims.”
According to Forbes, Biden said he would make a decision on this matter by the end of August. A 2021 Morning Consult poll shows that 62% of voters support student loan forgiveness.
“Our country is facing a serious economic crisis and we need to cut government spending to stop out-of-control inflation, not drastically increase our national debt through misguided executive orders like this,” said Lummis.
“Not only is the United States drowning in more than $30 trillion of debt, but the Biden Administration keeps coming up with ideas to put us further in the hole,” Lummis said in a June press release for the Accountability Act. “A bailout of student loan debt would make skyrocketing inflation worse while only helping mostly upper-middle class Americans instead of lower income earners like progressives claim.”
A move to forgive student debt could help Biden and other Democrats score points with younger voters, the most prevalent demographic saddled with student loan debt. The president’s approval ratings have plummeted in recent months, at one point last week dipping below Donald Trump’s lowest approval mark.
“President Biden’s attempts to unilaterally waive millions of dollars in student loans is another appeal to the radical left wing of his party,” Barrasso said. “This move undercuts Americans who have worked hard to responsibly pay off their student debt.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Trump instituted a temporary freeze on student loan repayments. The freezes have been extended six times with the most recent pause set to expire Aug. 31. Biden is currently considering whether he will initiate a seventh pause.