This pressure from the top Senate leader of Biden’s own party appeared to attract a response from the White House on Thursday. A spokesperson said for the first time that administration officials were considering the possibility of executive action on the matter, but also reiterated their goal of passing legislation.
“It’s one of those things the president can do on his own,” Schumer said Thursday at a press conference with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) And the progressive House Democrats who did pressure for rapid action from the Biden administration. .
“President Biden has taken good steps towards student debt, but we believe he needs to go much further,” Schumer said, adding that he and Warren had met Biden and his advisers several weeks ago. to discuss the matter. “They were extremely open to listen to us,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that student debt relief is an “important priority for the president” and that he remains committed to canceling $ 10,000 in debt per person by way. legislative.
Psaki said Biden “has already taken a step into executive action on day one, and he would look to Congress for the next steps.”
Later, in a tweet, Psaki said White House officials “were considering whether there were any steps he could take through executive action,” but she again noted that the president “would be happy to sign a bill that would be sent to him by Congress.”
Biden on his first day in office instructed the Ministry of Education to extend for at least eight months, freezing monthly payments and interest on most federal student loans, which benefits about 40 million Americans.
But Biden has expressed doubts about his executive power to go further and write off large amounts of student loan debt. “I think it’s pretty questionable,” he said in December. ” I’m not sure of it. I probably wouldn’t do that.
The White House did not include the cancellation of the student loan as part of its $ 1.9 trillion covid relief program. Biden’s advisers have signaled they are looking to the next major legislative stimulus package to pursue this proposal.
Schumer said Thursday his goal was to create a wave of outside pressure on Biden to move forward with executive action on student loans. “I told the president when we first started that we were going to try to rally the American people behind this, to support them when he decides, hopefully, to do it,” Schumer said. “And he had no problem with that.”
He asked a question Thursday as to whether he was open to passing legislation to write off student loan debt, as the White House has promoted. “The easiest way to do it is for President Biden [to do it] with the stroke of a pen, ”he said.
The main unions and civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, are among groups who urged the Biden administration to use executive action to write off student loan debt.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Who leads the House loan cancellation campaign, called it a problem of “racial and economic justice,” noting that borrowers of color disproportionately take out loans students to pay for their studies and are more likely to struggle to pay them back.
Pressley urged Biden to “be bold and responsive to the movement that elected him.”
GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, have strongly opposed the sweeping cancellation of student loans. Senator Richard Burr (RN.C.), the new senior Republican on the Senate Education Committee, said Wednesday that it would be “dangerous and reckless” for the Biden administration to pursue such a policy.
Trump administration officials at the Department of Education last month issued a legal opinion this concludes that the agency lacks the power to write off large swathes of student loan debt without legislation. Officials in the Biden administration could change that interpretation.
Some Congressional Democrats are also skeptical of the willingness to write off large swathes of student debt. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Chairman of the House Education Committee, said that while he supported “significant relief” for existing borrowers, he wanted to focus on ways to deal with more generally the affordability of colleges.
“Deferral of payments is a huge deal, and it gives us time, at least until September, to make other proposals,” Scott told POLITICO last week. “So the urgent part of the student loan problem has been taken care of by executive action. “
The cost of canceling the loan was a major sticking point when House Democrats sued it through legislation. Last May, Democrats released a Covid relief proposal that would have written off $ 10,000 in debt for federal and private loan borrowers. But House leaders later reduced that proposal over pricing concerns, ending up with student debt relief that only targeted “economically struggling” borrowers.
Supporters of student loan debt cancellation say one of the benefits of using executive action instead of legislation is to avoid congressional budget rules requiring offsets. “It doesn’t trigger the same PAYGO you get in the legislative process,” Warren told reporters Thursday.
Warren, who was the first presidential candidate in 2020 propose to use executive action under existing law to write off student loan debt, said she expected the $ 50,000 per borrower benefit to cost around $ 650 billion. “This is executive action that will ultimately stimulate our economy,” she said.
Warren also said she believes the Biden administration could also prevent any loan forgiveness from triggering a tax bill for borrowers.
She noted that she convinced the IRS during the Obama administration to avoid taxing the loan forgiveness granted to students who attended certain for-profit colleges. “We will do it again” during the Biden administration, she said.
Juan Perez Jr. contributed to this report.