Finance

Over 80 lawmakers urge Biden to release memo outlining his authority on student debt cancellation

More than 80 lawmakers in both the House and Senate are urging President Biden to publicly release information on his legal authority to cancel student loan debt he requested from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Lawmakers made the call in a letter sent to Biden on Tuesday, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.).

In the letter, lawmakers call on Biden to direct the Department of Education to “publicly release” a memo the administration ordered last year outlining the president’s authority to cancel student loans.

The letter comes roughly nine months after White House chief of staff Ron Klain publicly disclosed that the administration was working to prepare such a memo.

“He asked his secretary of Education, who’s just been on the job a few weeks, once he got on the job to have his department prepare a memo on the president’s legal authority, and hopefully we’ll see that in the next few weeks,” Klain said in an interview with Politico at the time. “And then he’ll look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that, and he’ll make a decision.”

“Publicly releasing the memo outlining your executive authority on canceling student debt and broadly doing so is crucial to making a meaningful difference in the lives of current students, borrowers, and their families,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “It has been widely reported that the Department of Education has had this memo since April 5, 2021 after being directed to draft it.”

They went on to call on Biden to use all tools at his disposal “to deliver relief to the millions of families inspired by your proposal to make a debt-free college degree within their reach by eliminating up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all families before payments resume.”

Since his presidential campaign, Biden has called for “a minimum of $10,000” in federal student loans to be canceled per borrower, while pushing back on calls from prominent Democrats urging to go as high as $50,000 or wipe out federal student loan debt entirely.

In Biden’s first year in office, the administration has provided more than $10 billion in student loan relief for thousands of borrowers, including borrowers with total and permanent disabilities, those who attended now-defunct schools and public service workers.

There are disagreements among Democrats over whether the president has the power for widespread cancellation.  

But as concerns mount over the coming lapse of a nationwide hold on federal student loan payments, Biden is seeing increased calls from progressives and advocates for broader forgiveness.

In their letter on Tuesday, the group of lawmakers argued student loan cancellation would help Americans “access important paths to build the middle class,” put others in a better position to save for homeownership and retirement and “help close the racial and gender wealth hap in Black and Brown communities that have been borne out of generations of discriminatory policies.”

“Robust assistance to borrowers is necessary to drive a full recovery,” they continued, before adding they look forward to working with Biden “on this important matter.”

In statement to The Hill on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the White House defended the administration’s handling of the matter. 
 
“No one has been required to pay a single dime of Federal student loans since the President took office. I’ll add that our country is seeing one of the strongest economic recoveries in history. And the pause announced in December gives some breathing room to borrowers who are still coping with the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.
 
“The Education Department will continue working to ensure a smooth transition to repayment in May. The President supports Congress providing $10,000 in debt relief. And he continues to look into what debt relief actions can be taken administratively,” they added. “But all borrowers should do their part. Take full advantage of the Department of Education’s resources, consider income-based repayment plans to lower payments or public service loan forgiveness, and get vaccinated and boosted.”
 
— Updated at 12:29 p.m.

Finance