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signs urging student debt forgiveness

Activists hold festive signs calling on President Joe Biden to cancel student debt near the White House on December 15, 2021. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million)

Progressives Reignite Call for Biden to Cancel Student Debt: 'All. Of. It.'

"The only real way to bring permanent relief to those impacted is to #CancelStudentDebt."

Jessica Corbett

Progressives in both chambers of Congress responded to U.S. President Joe Biden's Wednesday decision to extend a freeze on student loan repayments with calls for him to go further by forgiving the entire debt burden of federal borrowers..

"We cannot afford more delays—now is the time for the president to act."

"I applaud President Biden for once again pausing federal student loan payments for 45 million Americans. Now let's cancel it. All of it," said Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ran for president last year promising to take that action.

Biden's move to extend the pause on payments—which was set to expire at the beginning of February—to May 1 follows weeks of pressure from progressive activists and lawmakers.

In his statement about the extension, the president signaled he does not intend to cancel student debt. However, Biden's refusal to use his executive authority to cancel the debt has not deterred lawmakers like Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) from demanding such action.

Earlier this month, Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor to share her own experience paying off student loans and to call for debt forgiveness. Her reaction to Biden's Wednesday announcement was concise: "Thank you! Next step: cancellation."

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) similarly said, "Great, now cancel it!"

Rep. Jesús "Chuy' García shared a reaction from the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and tweeted, "I've said it once, and I'll say it again, this is a great step, but the only real way to bring permanent relief to those impacted is to #CancelStudentDebt."

The CPC issued a statement from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the caucus chair, welcoming the "excellent and necessary" extension as the Omicron variant "rages across the country," while also pushing for cancellation.

"This will allow millions of borrowers to breathe a momentary sigh of relief," Jayalpal said of the extension. "As progressives inside and outside of Congress have been saying for months, this will provide critical support to Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, continue Democrats' successful efforts to lower costs and decrease the burden of inflation, and keep $7 billion in the economy each month the moratorium continues. We appreciate the president heeding this call."

Jayapal continued:

But the work cannot stop here. The administration must now deliver on the president's promise to cancel student debt, lowering costs for families at a critical time of tremendous health and economic uncertainty. Given that the Build Back Better Act is still not law—delaying cost-saving measures that were slated to begin in 2022—we need to take immediate action to put money in people's pockets and invest in our nation’s continued economic recovery and quest for racial justice. According to the Roosevelt Institute, erasing $50,000 in student loans per person would immediately increase Black wealth by 40%. We cannot afford more delays—now is the time for the president to act.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—who have been leading calls from Congress for Biden to forgive up to $50,000 in federal student debt by executive action—highlighted that Roosevelt Institute analysis about the impacts of cancellation in a letter to the president earlier this month.

Pressley, Schumer, and Warren also released a joint statement Wednesday, referencing their letter and reiterating their demand for Biden to provide long-term relief to borrowers.

"We're pleased the Biden administration has heeded our call to extend the pause on student loan payments," the trio said. "As we stated in our December 8th letter, the pause on federal student loan payments, interest, and collections has improved borrowers' economic security, allowing them to invest in their families, save for emergencies, and pay down other debt."

"Extending the pause will help millions of Americans make ends meet, especially as we overcome the Omicron variant," they added. "We continue to call on President Biden to take executive action to cancel $50,000 in student debt, which will help close the racial wealth gap for borrowers and accelerate our economic recovery."

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