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The reality of college tuition debt was on display at the Northeastern University graduation at the TD Garden in Boston on May 3, 2019. (Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The reality of college tuition debt was on display at the Northeastern University graduation at the TD Garden in Boston on May 3, 2019. (Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Biden 'Can and Must Go Big,' Say Progressives Urging President to #CancelStudentDebt

"Far more than $10,000 in cancellation is required to provide aid that 44 million families and the economy need."

Kenny Stancil

After he dismissed the idea of cancelling $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower through executive action, President Joe Biden on Wednesday faced a barrage of criticisms from progressive activists and lawmakers who called for putting more pressure on the president to use every power at his disposal to provide relief to the more than 40 million Americans saddled with a combined $1.7 trillion in student debt.

Does Biden "have the authority to cancel student debt with the stroke of a pen?" asked Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) on Tuesday night after the president told a national television audience that he "will not" forgive $50,000 per borrower even though 60% of registered voters support the move.

"Yes," she answered, linking to a video explaining why the Biden administration has the legal authority, under the Higher Education Act of 1965, to cancel federally held student debt, as well as a petition calling for him to issue an executive order doing so.

Pressley was not alone. As Common Dreams reported earlier Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) all challenged Biden's false narrative about who would benefit from the measure and encouraged advocates to, as Ocasio-Cortez put it, "keep pushing!"

Throughout the day, numerous progressives denounced Biden's opposition to forgiving up to $50,000 per borrower and called on the president to immediately cancel student debt—which Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) called "a government-sanctioned punishment for... daring to achieve in our higher education system"—with the stroke of a pen.

Bowman is one of the Democratic lawmakers who joined Schumer, Warren, Pressley, and others at a press conference earlier this month to reintroduce a "visionary" debt cancellation plan for federal borrowers.

Using her own story—which included being victimized by the predatory for-profit college industry before attending a public university—as an example, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) highlighted how student debt cancellation, far from solving "a rich kid problem," would advance economic and racial justice.

As Omar explained, cancelling $50,000 of student debt per borrower would help working-class families who have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Contrary to Biden's false claims that the biggest beneficiares would be the elite graduates of Ivy League institutions, student loan forgiveness would be most beneficial to low- and middle-income households, especially Black and Brown Americans disproportionately burdened by debt.

Americans for Financial Reform, which has led demands for Biden to cancel $50,000 of student debt per borrower through executive action as a way to improve working people's lives amid a devastating economic crisis while also reducing racial inequality, on Wednesday stressed that Biden's stated willingness to forgive $10,000 per person is inadequate. 

"Far more than $10,000 in cancellation is required," the group said, "to provide aid that 44 million families and the economy need."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Wednesday tweeted that Biden "has the authority to issue an executive order that will cancel $50,000 of student loan debt for every borrower."

"It will be an act of justice, economic stimulus, and urgently needed relief all at once," Markey added, "and I urge him to act now."

The Hill reported Wednesday that "it could be months before Biden makes his move on student loan forgiveness." According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the Biden administration is waiting to conduct a legal review of its debt cancellation authority "until after Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland has been confirmed by the Senate."

While progressive lawmakers are urging their constituents to push Biden to take action, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said that if the president won't do it, "then we must deliver in Congress," adding: "45 million people are in need of our help."

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