Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued a statement on Wednesday urging President Joe Biden to take “executive action” to cancel student loan debt after the president was pressed on his plans to remove student loan debt during a CNN town hall on Tuesday night.
“An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans,” the senators wrote. “Cancelling $50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40 percent of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy. It’s time to act.”
The statement cited as precedent the executive action taken by former Presidents Barack Obama, and later, Donald Trump to address student debt. In March last year, the Trump administration had allowed most borrowers to temporarily suspend their monthly payments on student loans, interest free amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call for student debt cancellation comes after Biden said on Tuesday that while he understood student debt could be “debilitating,” he was not prepared to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt, arguing that he doesn’t have the power to do so unilaterally.
“I do think that, in this moment of economic pain and strain, that we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated,” Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Democrats have been pressing for the new administration to forgive most or all of the $1.6 trillion in federal student debt unilaterally within Biden’s first 100 days in office — an action that Biden said during a press call before he was inaugurated in January that he would be “unlikely” to do.
“I’m prepared to write off a $10,000 debt, but not 50,” Biden added, referring to a proposal by the White House indicating that the President would sign a bill removing $10,000 of student loan debt if Congress passed a bill.
But Biden suggested the larger sum couldn’t be cancelled with presidential action.
The Democratic senators previously introduced a resolution in September pushing a plan for the next president to use “existing executive authority” under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in Federal student loan debt for Federal student loans borrowed.
The White House previously said the Office of Legal Counsel was reviewing whether Biden could unilaterally cancel federal student loan debt.
“There needs to be a team at the Justice Department to make a recommendation on his legal authority,” Psaki said during a briefing on Wednesday.
“In the meantime, if Congress moves forward and sends him a package that provides $10,000 of student debt relief, he would be eager to sign that,” she added.
Read Warren and Schumer’s statement in full below:
Presidents Obama and Trump used their executive authority to cancel student loan debt. The Biden administration has said it is reviewing options for cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt by executive action, and we are confident they will agree with the standards Obama and Trump used as well as leading legal experts who have concluded that the administration has broad authority to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans. An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans. Cancelling $50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40% of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy. It’s time to act. We will keep fighting.