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Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a press conference

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol on February 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

80+ Dems Tell Biden to Release Secret Memo on Student Debt Authority

Leaders in Biden's own party strongly disagree with his insistence that he doesn't have the authority to broadly cancel student debt.

Jake Johnson

With the federal moratorium on student loan repayments set to end in less than 100 days, dozens of Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday implored President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to cancel at least $50,000 in student debt per borrower.

"We can and must provide this relief to millions of borrowers and their families."

Failure or refusal to do so, the group of 85 lawmakers warned in a letter to the president, could have devastating impacts on millions of vulnerable people across the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic rages and federal aid—including the expanded child tax credit—is cut off.

"Canceling $50,000 of student debt would give 36 million Americans permanent relief and aid the millions more who will eventually resume payments their best chance at thriving in our recovering economy," reads the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

"In light of high Covid-19 case counts and corresponding economic disruptions," the letter continues, "restarting student loan payments without this broad cancellation would be disastrous for millions of borrowers and their families."

Early on in his White House tenure, Biden instructed the Education Department to produce a memo on the president's legal authority regarding student debt cancellation. While internal documents indicate that the memo is finished, the administration has not yet made it public—and activists argue that's because the findings contradict Biden's limited view of his own authority.

In their letter on Tuesday, the 85 lawmakers called on Biden to immediately release the memo, pointing to emails showing that a draft version was ready in early April of last year.

"Publicly releasing the memo outlining your existing authority on canceling student debt and broadly doing so," they argued, "is crucial to making a meaningful difference in the lives of current students, borrowers, and their families."

The coordinated demand from House and Senate Democrats—as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—comes just over a month after Biden extended the pause on student loan repayments and interest amid mounting grassroots pressure.

But the president signaled in his statement announcing the brief extension that he doesn't intend to keep the moratorium in place past May 1, meaning that millions of borrowers could soon face hundreds of dollars in monthly payments in the middle of a public health emergency.

Thus far, Biden has declined to use executive action to broadly cancel student debt, rebuffing urgent pleas from lawmakers and borrowers themselves. Last week, as Common Dreams reported, Biden faced criticism for ignoring a reporter's question about his unfulfilled campaign promise to eliminate $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower.

Contrary to the view of progressive lawmakers and legal experts, the president argues he doesn't have the authority to order sweeping cancellation of student debt, even though the Education Department has already unilaterally forgiven $15 billion in student loan debt for hundreds of thousands of borrowers over the course of his administration.

"We can and must provide this relief to millions of borrowers and their families," Jayapal tweeted Wednesday.

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