Washington (CNN)Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is keeping the pressure on President Joe Biden to forgive $50,000 in federal student loan debt. The New York Democrat said Monday that the Justice Department is currently conducting a legal review on whether Biden has the authority to issue blanket forgiveness on student debt.
But Biden has repeatedly resisted calls from Schumer and other Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to cancel $50,000 per student loan borrower — making it very clear during a CNN Town Hall last month that he does not support the idea. Biden has expressed support for canceling $10,000 per borrower, but has argued that the government shouldn’t forgive debt for people who went to “Harvard and Yale and Penn.”
He’s also indicated that he believes Congress should make changes through legislation, which would make them harder to undo — though White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that the administration was open to reviewing an executive option.
When asked Monday about whether Congress should take the first step, Schumer argued it would take too long and there are many other key priorities at the moment that the Senate is focused on. “I think it will be much harder to do legislatively. We have not seen our Republican colleagues jump at this opportunity,” he said on a press call with his colleagues Warren and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
More progressive members of the Democratic Party have been calling for student debt cancellation for years. Warren and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders put forward forgiveness plans when they were running in the Democratic presidential primary.
Biden put out a policy proposal to forgive $10,000 per borrower only after the pandemic began and he was the presumptive nominee. Lawmakers introduced a similar resolution last year that called on the Trump administration to forgive student loan debt — but former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos slammed that proposal as “government gift giving.”
House Democrats included a provision to cancel $10,000 per borrower in a sweeping Covid relief bill passed in May that was never taken up in the then Republican-led Senate. The Covid relief bill that Biden signed into law last week includes a provision that would make any forthcoming student debt forgiveness tax free — but stopped short of canceling debt.
Payment deferrals extended through September
In one of his first acts in office, Biden extended the pause on student loan payments and interest, a Covid relief benefit put in place by Congress last year that had already been renewed by the Trump administration.
Federal student loan borrowers won’t have to make payments until October 1 at the earliest. He also supports making community college free for everyone, making public four-year colleges free for students from families who earn less than $125,000 a year and changing the existing system to make sure student loan payments are more affordable.
A broad cancellation of federal student loan debt would be unprecedented. But a memo from lawyers at Harvard’s Legal Services Center and its Project on Predatory Student Lending says the Department of Education has the power to do so. The department already has some more targeted debt cancellation policies in place.
It wipes away debt for defrauded students as well as disabled veterans. Biden could provide relief for hundreds of thousands of more borrowers just by expanding those programs, according to the National Student Legal Defense Network.