Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez late Wednesday called on President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to immediately cancel student loan payments after the president signed an order extending an existing pause through at least the end of September.
"OK now let's cancel them," the New York Democrat tweeted in response to Biden's order, which directs the Education Department to freeze "federal student loan payments and collections and keep the interest rate at 0%."
"Too many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families," the White House said in a statement. "They should not be forced to choose between paying their student loans and putting food on the table."
While the extension of the payment freeze was a welcome day-one action by Biden, progressives have long argued that the president has the legal authority—and a moral obligation—to unilaterally cancel the student loan debt that is saddling tens of millions of Americans.
Biden can cancel all $1.7 trillion of student debt by executive order.
— The Debt Collective (@StrikeDebt) January 20, 2021
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But last month, as Common Dreams reported, Biden claimed it is "questionable" whether the president can legally cancel student loan debt via executive order and said he is "unlikely to do that." Instead of taking executive action, Biden has proposed canceling $10,000 in federal student debt per borrower through legislation.
Alexis Goldstein, a senior policy analyst with Americans for Financial Reform, said at the time that "it simply isn't correct to say the legal authority to cancel student debt via executive action is 'questionable.'"
"The authority is clear, documented, and even the Trump administration used executive authority to cancel student loan interest payments, twice," Goldstein noted.
Just ahead of Biden's inauguration Wednesday, The Debt Collective union launched the Biden Jubilee 100, an initiative that consists of "100 student debt strikers refusing to pay back their student loans until President Biden cancels all student debt—which he has the power to do immediately!"
"Our communities are struggling in the midst of the Covid pandemic," reads the The Debt Collective's website. "Millions of us are facing eviction and food insecurity, while suffering from exploding medical costs, rising tuition, unpayable bills, and the perpetual fear of illness. Joe Biden and his administration need to act immediately... And we're going to make him do it."