Democrats Pressure Biden for $50,000 Student Loan Cancellation by Executive Order

Democrats Pressure Biden for $50,000 Student Loan Cancellation by Executive Order
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 4, 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Congressional Democrats are pushing President Joe Biden to wipe out $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers via executive order, but the White House suggests it should be done by with legislative means.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), joined by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and other Democratic lawmakers, urged Biden to take executive action to cancel $50,000 per borrower. They argue that the move would boost the economy, reduce the “racial wealth gap,” and lead the country toward a “long-term, equitable, and just recovery.”

“We have met with the president, we are pushing the president and his people and we are very hopeful that the cry from one end of America to the other—take this student-loan debt off our backs—will be heard in the White House,” Schumer said at a press conference.

Schumer and Warren first unveiled their proposal in September 2020, when Biden was still a White House contender. They called on whoever becomes the next president to “use existing authority under the Higher Education Act” to initiate broad-scale loan forgiveness without seeking congressional approval.

Now a sitting president, Biden appears to be hesitant about using the authority that he might have. Shortly after Schumer and Warren announced their renewed effort, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden believes Congress should try to pass the legislation for him to sign rather than relying on executive action.

“He’s calling on Congress to draft the proposal,” Psaki said. “And if it is passed and sent to his desk, he will look forward to signing it.”

Psaki noted that Biden has directed the Education Department to extend the Trump administration’s suspension on student loan payments and interest through September 2021, and that he continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person, as part of the administration’s plan to ease economic burdens on Americans during the pandemic.

“He already took a step through an executive action on the first day, and he would look to Congress to take the next steps,” she said.

Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, during her final days in office, denounced the idea of student loan debt forgiveness. She wrote in her farewell letter that two-thirds of Americans don’t have student loans, and that it’s fundamentally unfair to require two-thirds of Americans who didn’t go to college or who don’t have student loans to subsidize the one-third who did.

“Across-the-board forgiveness of college debts is not only unfair to most Americans, it is also the most regressive of policy proposals—rewarding the wealthiest sector of our labor force at the expense of the poorest,” DeVos wrote. “And it’s even more unfair to those who have held up their end of the bargain and paid back their student loans themselves to subsidize those who don’t save, plan, and pay.”