Republicans in Congress and former Trump administration officials are taking steps to oppose President Biden’s sweeping student debt relief initiatives, including his one-time student loan forgiveness plan whose fate will ultimately be decided soon by the Supreme Court.
Here’s the latest.
Republicans Urge Supreme Court to Strike Down Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan
Last fall, Biden announced an unprecedented student loan forgiveness plan that would wipe out billions of dollars in federal student loan debt. Under his program, borrowers could qualify for up to $20,000 in debt cancellation. 26 million borrowers were approved for student loan forgiveness across all 50 states before two federal courts blocked the program in response to legal challenges brought by Republican-led states and a conservative-leaning legal organization.
The Supreme Court has taken up the two cases, and oral arguments are scheduled for later this month. The Biden administration and the challengers have filed legal briefs with the court, and dozens of other organizations and individuals have filed amicus curiae briefs. The Biden administration argues that the HEROES Act of 2003 authorizes the Education Department to modify federal student aid programs in response to national emergencies such as a pandemic, and this includes broad student loan forgiveness.
On Friday, 126 House Republicans filed a brief with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to strike down Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.
“The Biden Administration does not have the authority to unilaterally ‘forgive’ student loan debt across the board, and attempting to do so is nothing more than a political maneuver,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) in a statement on Friday. “This exploits the original intention of the HEROES Act of 2003, oversteps the authority of Congress, undermines the will of the American people, and would send the country further into a debt spiral. The Court should invalidate the Secretary of Education’s sweeping student loan forgiveness program since it trespasses on Congressional authority and violates the separation of powers.”
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos chimed in as well, joining several other former education secretaries to argue that Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is illegal under the HEROES Act and should be vacated. “Though concerns about the rising costs of higher education and the amount of outstanding student loan debt have been part of the public discourse for decades (and long before COVID-19), the idea that the Executive Branch could unilaterally cancel student loan debt on a mass basis without Congressional authority was not seriously entertained” by any prior administration, they argued.
The Biden administation has maintained with confidence that the HEROES Act authorizes sweeping student loan forgiveness. “Several provisions of the HEROES Act underscore Congress’s intent to authorize the Secretary to respond quickly and fully to national emergencies,” said administration attorneys in its written legal arguments to the Supreme Court. “The lower courts’ orders have erroneously deprived the Secretary of his statutory authority to provide targeted student-loan debt relief to borrowers affected by national emergencies, leaving millions of economically vulnerable borrowers in limbo.”
Republicans Oppose Biden’s New Student Loan Income-Driven Repayment Reforms
In January, the Biden administration released proposed regulations to overhaul Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), a popular income-driven repayment (IDR) plan for federal student loan borrowers. IDR plans allow borrowers to make payments based on their income and family size, with any remaining balance forgiven if the borrower has not repaid their loan in full by the end of their repayment term (typically 20 or 25 years).
The proposed changes would reduce monthly payments for millions of borrowers, expand the loan periods that can count towards eventual loan forgiveness, and shorten the loan forgiveness term for some undergraduate borrowers with low initial balances.
Republicans have vowed to oppose Biden’s plan. Last week, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, criticizing the plan.
“These regulations are yet another example of your Department usurping the power of the purse, an authority solely held by Congress,” they wrote. “This proposed regulation would cut future borrowers’ payments in half and eliminate the expectation for these borrowers to pay back even the principal on their loan. This would fundamentally break our higher education financing system.” They urged Cardona to extend the comment period before finalizing the new regulations.
A report released on Monday by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget suggested that the Biden administration may have underestimated the total cost of the REPAYE overhaul. Still, advocates for borrowers have said that while the reforms will certainly help many, the changes do not go far enough, as the new plan still excludes Parent PLUS borrowers from relief and maintains a 20-year or 25-year repayment term for most borrowers before they can be eligible for loan forgiveness.
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