President Joe Biden on Thursday faced demands from dozens of Democrats in Congress and over 325 advocacy groups to begin tackling the student debt crisis by providing immediate relief to the more than 43 million people nationwide who are burdened by a collective $1.7 trillion in federal student loan debt—with the stroke of a pen.
"President Biden has the legal authority to cancel billions in student debt with the stroke of a pen and he must meet the moment by using that authority."
—Rep. Ayanna Pressley
Led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), the lawmakers argue that Biden should cancel up to $50,000 in debt per borrower to kickstart the economy, address the racial wealth gap, and put the U.S. on a path to a "long-term, equitable, and just recovery."
The trio reintroduced their "visionary" plan, first unveiled in September 2020, at a press conference outside the Capitol building on Thursday morning. "College should be ladder up," said Schumer, instead of the "huge anchor" it has become for millions of Americans. The majority leader added that the debt burden is a drag on not only people's lives but also the entire United States economy.
Schumer also said that he and Warren recently met with the president to discuss the plan, and he and the administration seemed "extremely open to listening to us." The majority leader added that "we are fighting and fighting and fighting" for this relief, and the resolution's supporters won't let up until Biden takes acton.
In a joint statement ahead of the event, the lawmakers highlighted that the nation is currently facing multiple related crisis, with the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rise as millions of Americans are out of work, struggling to afford basic necessities including housing and food.
"During a time of historic and overlapping crises, which are disproportionately impacting communities of color, we must do everything in our power to deliver real relief to the American people, lift up our struggling economy and close the racial wealth gap," Schumer said. "Democrats are committed to big, bold action, and this resolution to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt is one of the strongest steps the president can take to achieve these goals."
Warren—who faced off against Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary—reiterated that message, while noting that student debt was weighing down Americans long before the pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, sickened millions, and led to layoffs and company closures.
"The Covid-19 crisis is worsening the massive inequities in our economy and society, but even before the pandemic the student loan debt crisis was already crushing millions of Americans," said Warren. "By cancelling up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers, President Biden can take the single most effective executive action available to provide a massive stimulus to our economy, help narrow the racial wealth gap, and lift this impossible burden off of tens of millions of families."
"Our resolution has over 50 co-sponsors in the House. We are joined by over 325 grassroots groups. The momentum is building, the coalition is growing. With the stroke of a pen, @POTUS can provide relief to tens of millions of families." -- @RepPressley #CancelStudentDebt pic.twitter.com/REnSqqYgkV
— AFR (@RealBankReform) February 4, 2021
Pressley emphasized that the debt crisis "is a racial and economic justice issue."
"With this pandemic worsening daily, we need bold and high impact policies that will match the scale and scope of the crisis and truly offer immediate relief for people—this must include across the board student debt cancellation," she said. "President Biden has the legal authority to cancel billions in student debt with the stroke of a pen and he must meet the moment by using that authority, which would not only set us on a path to an equitable recovery, but would also help reduce the racial wealth gap."
"#CancelStudentDebt will provide both immediate financial relief to millions of Americans and crucial economic stimulus for everyone during this protracted crisis. This action would also boost GDP and job creation at a time of intense labor shocks and economic uncertainty."
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Their resolution recognizes that Congress has granted the secretary of education authority to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student debt under section 432(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965. It encourages Biden to not only pursue debt cancellation but also to use his authority under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prevent administrative debt cancellation from resulting in a tax liability for borrowers.
The resolution further encourages the president to continue a pause on student loan payments and interest accumulation for federal borrowers for the duration of the pandemic. In an early executive order, Biden directed the Education Department to extend the pause that's been in place since March 2020 until at least October 2021.
Supporters of the resolution include Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with 45 other House Democrats.
You know what would be an effective stimulus program? Canceling student debt. President Biden can do it today and I urge him to take action now. #CancelStudentDebt
— Ed Markey (@EdMarkey) February 4, 2021
In addition to lawmakers, civil rights, climate, health, labor, consumer rights, and student groups are calling for Biden to take executive action to cancel student debt, including American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association, NAACP, UnidosUS, National Women's Law Center, SEIU, and Sunrise Movement.
"Nearly a year into this public health crisis and ensuing recession, families continue to struggle to afford basic necessities. But the new administration and Congress has made clear they are working to tackle these challenges and put decency, competency and the needs of working people first," said AFT president Randi Weingarten.
"Through the Higher Education Act, the president already has the tools he needs to meaningfully address the student debt crisis and forgive a portion of our nation's student debt," she added. "On behalf of millions of borrowers, educators, healthcare professionals, and public employees, I am proud to support the senators and representatives introducing this important resolution that calls on the president to take that action and work to provide relief for struggling borrowers."
Canceling student debt is an important step towards economic and racial equity and social justice.
— NEA (@NEAToday) February 4, 2021
The resolution's reintroduction comes as Democrats attempt to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, possibly without any GOP support. Sanders, the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has repeatedly made clear in recent days that relief is needed now, telling CNN on Wednesday that "when you got millions of people out there worried about how they're gonna feed their kids, or how they're gonna get enough income to pay the rent, that is the priority that we have to address."