President Biden’s student loan forgiveness is unconstitutional. Where is the outrage?
“People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress.”
I fully agree with that statement, but it’s not mine. It’s from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spoken during her weekly news conference on July 28, 2021.
Most of us in Washington have long understood that President Biden does not have the Constitutional authority to forgive student loan debt by executive order. The separation of powers doctrine makes that very clear: Congress appropriates the money using the ‘power of the purse,’ and the executive branch – notably, the president – implements and administers the money Congress approves. Only now have those rules become null and void at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There is one clear reason why.
Make no mistake: President Biden’s executive order is a blatant disregard of the Constitution used to buy votes ahead of the midterm election in which Democrats are poised to lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly the U.S. Senate. Keep in mind, this sweeping forgiveness plan is set to take effect in October and early November, right as Americans head to the polls. This abhorrent abuse of the Constitution creates an incredibly slippery slope for future presidential administrations; for the process of spending taxpayer dollars; and our rule of government at large. For these reasons, I call on my colleagues in Congress to denounce the president’s unlawful executive order.
In the aftermath of the president’s announcement, there has been little chatter on cable news and even here in Washington about the decision. To that, I ask: where is the outrage? This week, we learned President Biden’s student loan executive action will cost approximately $400 billion, according to analysis released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It will cost an additional $20 billion to further postpone student loan repayments, their report finds.
As it currently stands, nearly a half-trillion dollars of taxpayer money will be spent with the stroke of a single pen and without the voice of the taxpayer – their elected representative. Congress is constitutionally required to vote on matters like this. The American people should not be forced to become co-signers on loans they didn’t agree to.
I’ll tell you who is indeed outraged: the hardworking men and women from my district who have called and written my office urging Congress to fix this; the Americans nationwide who struggled to put their own children through college and are now footing the bill for this unconstitutional political stunt; the mom and dad who decided to send their son or daughter to a more affordable state university because they couldn’t afford to send their child to a private school only to see now how their responsible decision does not matter after all.
The backlash isn’t just from Main Street. Economists – even some Democrats – are warning of the immediate consequences. Shortly after the announcement, Jason Furman, the former Chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, tweeted “Pouring roughly half trillion dollars of gasoline on the inflationary fire that is already burning is reckless.”
First, the Biden administration ignored inflation. Then they denied its existence. Now, when the cumulative inflation rate has hit 13 percent since the president took office in Jan. 2021, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, he is openly exacerbating the problem while lighting a match to the Constitution he swore to defend.
I represent a district where the annual median family income is $54,000. Some people ask me, “how does someone live on only $54,000?” My answer: many families are earning less than that. That’s why it is hardly fair to ask the waitress or cashier to pay for the loans of the law or business student.
President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is not only pure politics, but it’s also bad policy. Congress can and should have a healthy debate about ways to lower the cost of college. However, blanket forgiveness through executive order just to score quick political points jeopardizes the Constitution and does not provide long-term solutions for future borrowers. Without concrete plans to lower costs, the nation is left with only an unhealthy debate about winners and losers.
To me, this is bigger than just forgiving student loans. Congress has ceded enough of its powers to the Executive Branch over the years. Leaving this unilateral move unchecked sets a dangerous precedent for future presidents to further bypass Congress as a means of accomplishing their agenda. If the president can essentially pass legislation and spend taxpayer money on his own, Americans will be left with a weaker Constitution and a quieter voice in their democracy. There is nothing “free” about that.
Rep. Mike Kelly represents Pennsylvania’s 16th District and is ranking member of the Ways & Means Committee’s Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee, which covers tax policy.