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Progressives are calling on President-elect Joe Biden and his Education Department to cancel student debt. (Photo: YouTube/screenshot)

'If Biden Wants to Be FDR, He Should Immediately Cancel Student Debt': President-Elect Urged to Go Big

"Young people voted for Biden in record numbers—he owes us this one."

Julia Conley, staff writer

Progressives are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to immediately cancel student loan debt upon taking office in January, a move proponents say would transform the lives of millions of working Americans, boost the economy, and position Democrats to maintain popular majorities long into the future.

While the Republican Party may well retain control of the U.S. Senate following last week's elections—though Democratic victories in Georgia's two runoff elections planned for January could change that—Biden would be able to use his executive authority to clear all student debt held by 42 million Americans, totaling $1.6 trillion. 

As the debtors' union Debt Collective wrote in an extensive Twitter thread over the weekend, just as Biden was announced the projected winner of the 2020 election, the president-elect could direct his education secretary to "UNILATERALLY cancel ALL student debt" using a provision in the Higher Education Act.

"Thus, the secretary of education—or her delegate—has the ability to cancel or write down claims against student debtors either unilaterally or in exchange for something else, apparently for any reason or for no reason," Debt Collective tweeted. 

The demand echoed a 2015 call by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who pushed President Barack Obama's Education Department to use a provision under the Higher Education Act known as "borrower defense" to cancel the debt of college students who were defrauded by for-profit institutions. Pressure from Warren pushed the department to clear hundreds of millions of dollars in student loans. 

Cancelling the debt of all student loan borrowers, said author and activist Naomi Klein on Tuesday, would put Biden on the path to running the country as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did as the U.S. faced the Great Depression.

While running in the Democratic primary against progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—who called for a complete cancellation of student loan debt and relief for up to $50,000 in debt for some households, respectively—Biden displayed skepticism of student loan forgiveness. 

After winning the nomination, the president-elect unveiled a plan to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for every year a public servant works, up to five years and halve payments for undergraduate federal student loans. He also endorsed proposals by Senate Democrats to offer $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for every borrower, amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Warren was joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in September in a more ambitious call, demanding that the White House wipe out $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower. 

In an interview with writer and commentator Anand Giridharadas on Saturday, Schumer repeated the call, saying Biden's first 100 days in office "ought to look like FDR's."

"Getting rid of student debt ... We believe that Joe Biden can do that with the pen as opposed to legislation," Schumer said.

Proponents say far-reaching action to cancel student loan debt would stimulate the economy by freeing up the household budgets of tens of millions of Americans, more than 25% of whom are currently behind in their loan payments. Action taken by Biden would also be broadly popular, a Hill/HarrisX poll taken last year showing that 58% of registered voters support student loan cancellation.

Progressives on social media on Tuesday echoed the call of Klein and Debt Collective. 

"Administrative student debt cancellation of any ambition would be most efficiently accomplished with a president fully committed to the project because it would require coordination across the executive branch," tweeted Debt Collective, calling on Americans to support its campaign. "That's why we need all of you and your political will and our collective pressure on Joe Biden and his secretary of education for her to use this authority and free tens and millions of Americans from crippling student loan debt."

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