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Democrats increase pressure on Biden to cancel student loan debt

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats announced legislation calling on Biden to use executive power to tackle the issue.
Image: Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley, Alma Adams, Mondaire Jones
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer accompanied by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Democratic House members talk about a resolution to call on President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers on Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington.Andrew Harnik / AP

A group of prominent Democrats announced legislation on Thursday calling on President Joe Biden to cancel some student loan debt using his executive power.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Alma Adams, D-N.C., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at a press conference to announce the measure.

The resolution, which is nonbinding, calls on Biden to use executive action to wipe out up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all borrowers and to ensure there is zero tax liability for borrowers after any administrative debt cancellation. It also suspends student loan payments and interest for the duration of the pandemic and says the Secretary of Education has broad administrative authority to cancel the debt.

Urging him "to be responsive to the movement that elected him," Pressley said that the resolution has over 50 co-sponsors in the House, support across both chambers of Congress and the backing of hundreds of grassroots organizations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to throw cold water on the effort later Thursday, telling reporters that while "the president has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as a response to the Covid crisis," any further action would need to come from Congress.

"He's calling on Congress to draft the proposal," she said, though she didn't say what specific measures he would support. "And if it is passed and sent to his desk, he will look forward to signing it."

She later tweeted that the White House would also be "reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action."

Democrats and advocates have been lobbying Biden for months to tackle the student loan crisis through executive action. Warren and Schumer introduced a resolution in September that outlined how the president could use existing authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel the debt.

"Cancelling student loan debt is good for you whether you have student loan debt or not because it is good for our economy," Warren said Thursday. She said canceling this debt for the 45 million borrowers would boost homeownership, credit scores and job eligibility, among other things.

The resolution calls for a more aggressive approach to student loan forgiveness than what Biden's team has previously proposed. Biden's Education Beyond High School plan released during his presidential campaign was more focused on easing the burden for future borrowers, though it proposed some debt relief for public servants as well as an income-based payment plan allowing some low-income borrowers to forgo payments without incurring interest.

On his first day in office, Biden also signed an executive order extending the payment pause on federal student loans due to Covid-19 until October. He also called on Congress last month to cancel $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as an additional coronavirus relief measure.

Under Biden's campaign plan, borrowers earning more than $25,000 would have to make their monthly payment for 20 years to be considered for full forgiveness on their remaining balance. Schumer said this approach could lead to wider gaps in racial inequality.

"After 20 years, only five percent of whites have student debt, but 95 percent of African Americans have debt," Schumer said. "The wealth gap in America between Black and white is one of our greatest problems. One of the greatest ways, quickest ways to cure a good chunk of it is to get rid of that $50,000 in debt."