Biden signals he’s ready to cancel student loans

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President Biden gave his strongest indication yet during a private meeting with House Democrats that he is about to take major steps to provide student loan relief, a move that could include the cancellation of tens of thousands of dollars of debt for some people.

Borrowers are currently enjoying a moratorium on their student loan repayments that lasts until August 31, a pandemic-induced pause that began under the Trump administration. The White House has come under considerable pressure from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to write off the debts outright, rather than repeatedly extending the moratorium as it has.

Biden and centrist Democrats, however, have expressed skepticism about the wisdom of burdening taxpayers with the debt of students who voluntarily took out loans to attend expensive private universities. To address those concerns, a Biden move could target low- and middle-income borrowers.

During a lengthy meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday, Biden repeatedly signaled that he was prepared to not only extend the current moratorium, but also potentially take executive action completely canceling some of the debt. , according to two members of the Chamber present and two assistants informed of the content of the meeting.

President Biden has the power to cancel student loan debt. Will he? And what would that mean for the average Jo? (Video: Monica Akhtar, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-California) initially raised the issue with Biden during the meeting. In an interview, Cárdenas said he first asked the president to extend the moratorium beyond its current August 31 expiration date, and Biden replied with a smile: “Well, Tony, I extended it each time.”

Cárdenas said he then urged the president to issue an executive order to relieve at least $10,000 in student loan debt per person. In making his case, Cárdenas said he told Biden that Latinos in the United States who have student debt still have more than 80% of their bill owing after more than a dozen years.

Biden was “incredibly positive” about the idea, Cárdenas said.

Another lawmaker present, Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida), said Biden’s response to lawmakers’ demands to forgive at least some student debt was essentially that he would like to do so as soon as possible. The president suggested he was looking to take executive action as soon as possible, telling Hispanic lawmakers they would be very happy with what he did next, according to aides briefed at the meeting.

Such a move could prove a popular selling point for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Still, Biden stressed that the timing of any loan relief announcement was sensitive, as he did not want it to add to inflationary pressures.

The president hinted to lawmakers that he understands the burden of student loans on a personal level, as he recently finished paying off his late son Beau’s outstanding student debt. Biden brought up this story often during the campaign trail when discussing the topic with voters.

“I’m very confident that he pushes his team to do something and to do something important,” Cárdenas said in an interview. “That’s my feeling.”

The issue of student loan forgiveness has long been politically tense. Liberals argue that higher education should be relatively inexpensive for everyone, as it is in European countries. The skyrocketing cost of college, they argue, is a major impediment to social advancement in this country.

But many conservatives dispute the idea that wealthier people who chose to attend expensive schools should have their debts wiped out, while those who went to cheaper schools or decided to forgo college altogether don’t would derive little or no benefit.

The debate is also taking place at a time when some Americans, particularly in rural areas and on the conservative end of the political spectrum, are questioning the value and desirability of a college education in the first place.

For much of his presidency, Biden has not been supportive of the idea of ​​outright student debt cancellation. In an interview with New York Times columnist David Brooks last year, Biden reacted dismissively to the idea, saying, “The idea that you go to Penn and pay a total of $70,000 a year and that the public should pay for it? I do not agree.

The president also stressed that any debt relief plan would be focused on low-income and disadvantaged students.

During the presidential campaign, Biden wrote in a mid-2020 article that he favored a plan “to cancel student debt for low-income and middle-class people who attended colleges and universities. public,” as well as historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

In that article, Biden spoke of “immediate cancellation of a minimum of $10,000 in student debt per person,” adding that those earning less than $25,000 a year would not have to make monthly payments and would accrue no interest.

Amid a continuing onslaught of pressure from influential Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the administration n never ruled out the idea of ​​a broader loan forgiveness program. .

Schumer regularly tweets about the need to cancel student loans. “Today would be a great day for President Biden to #CancelStudentDebt,” he tweeted Tuesday.

White House officials repeatedly stressed — as recently as Tuesday — that Biden would make a decision on student loan cancellations by Aug. 31, when the current moratorium on loan repayments expires.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that “no one has paid a single penny in federal student loans since the president took office” and that administration officials were looking into other ways for Biden to act unilaterally to provide student loan debt relief.

About 7 million people with federal student loans are excluded from the break because their debt is held by private companies. The Biden administration has already forgiven more than $17 billion in student loans for 725,000 borrowers through targeted relief, including for those with permanent disabilities and those defrauded by their colleges.

Monday’s Hispanic Caucus meeting was part of a series of meetings Biden has held with Democratic coalitions on Capitol Hill in recent weeks to discuss pursuing his agenda using executive branch action, as a number of its legislative initiatives have failed.

Several senior White House officials and other administration officials also attended the Hispanic Caucus meeting, including Domestic Policy Chief Susan Rice; Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Director of Political Strategy and Outreach Emmy Ruiz; White House Deputy Cabinet Secretary Cristóbal Alex; and Louisa Terrell, the director of legislative affairs, according to an administration official.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel contributed to this report.

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