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'I will not make that happen': Biden declines Democrats' call to cancel $50K in student debt

Biden said he was prepared to cancel $10,000 in debt and the interest but anything more than that would require congressional action.
Image: President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall in Milwaukee
President Joe Biden at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee on Tuesday.Leah Millis / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he would not eliminate $50,000 in student debt, shooting down a proposal that prominent Democrats introduced this month, but that he is open to some level of loan forgiveness.

"I will not make that happen," Biden said at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee, his first event outside Washington since he took office, in response to an audience member who called on him to commit to cancel at least $50,000 in debt.

Biden, listing off the six-figure debts he said his children incurred attending private universities, said that he understood the burden of the student loan crisis but that he did not believe he could eliminate $50,000 on his own without congressional action.

"My point is: I understand the impact of debt, and it can be debilitating," Biden said. "I am prepared to write off the $10,000 debt but not $50 [thousand], because I don't think I have the authority to do it."

Biden faces growing pressure from his own party to take bolder action on student debt and to bypass Congress to do so.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other lawmakers introduced a resolution in early February calling on Biden to use executive action to wipe out up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all borrowers, arguing that the secretary of education has broad administrative authority to cancel the debt.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time that Biden was "reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action, and he would welcome the opportunity to sign a bill sent to him by Congress."

Schumer and Warren continued to press Biden to commit to eliminating $50,000 in debt, writing in a joint statement on Wednesday that while the administration reviews their options, they remain "confident" that Biden will ultimately agree with experts "who have concluded that the administration has broad authority to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans."

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Biden reiterated his support Tuesday for making community college free and for allowing families earning under $125,000 to send their children to state schools for free. Biden said he also supported expanding debt forgiveness programs for those going into public service jobs, such as teaching.

He said that during "this moment of economic pain and strain" caused by the coronavirus pandemic, interest should be eliminated.

Biden also suggested that extending school through the summer could be an option for states to make up for the interrupted academic year.

"My guess is they're going to probably be pushing to open all summer, to continue like it's a different semester," Biden said.