As Republican leaders in the U.S. House prepare to hold a vote this week on legislation that would block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief, progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday warned of the "ruinous impact" the GOP's resolution threatens to have on millions of borrowers.
Last year, Biden moved to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes under $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment program. The White House's popular relief initiative is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to it. A decision in the case is expected next month.
House Republicans, however, are now attempting to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal Biden's student debt policies regardless of how the high court rules. At issue is H.J. Res. 45, a CRA resolution that GOP lawmakers approved in committee earlier this month in a party-line vote. House Republican leadership on Monday scheduled the measure for a floor vote on Wednesday.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel."
On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) sounded the alarm about the measure's wide-ranging potential consequences, warning that it "would destroy the lives of millions of borrowers and their families by forcing them to repay thousands of dollars in already forgiven debt."
"Right-wing special interests want their supporters to believe they are simply trying to stop Biden's student loan debt relief program, but there are far greater implications afoot," a new report from AFT and SBPC points out.
In addition to nullifying Biden's promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers, H.J. Res. 45 would "reverse months of paused payments and already waived interest charges implemented as part of the government's pandemic response, immediately leaving 40 million student loan borrowers past due on their loans and adding tens of billions of dollars in new interest charges," the groups noted.
That's not all. The CRA resolution also seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean after making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
As AFT and SBPC explained:
If enacted, the Republican student loan CRA scheme would undo the seventh extension of the pause on federal student loan payments first enacted by President [Donald] Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The seventh extension lasted from September 2022 through December 2022. According to the Congressional Review Act, "[a]ny rule that takes effect and later is made of no force or effect by enactment of [CRA resolution] shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect." The CRA scheme would thus also likely undo the eighth extension of the payment pause, a "substantially the same" executive action that began in January 2023 and is ongoing.
Based on their analysis of recently unveiled Department of Education data, the two groups estimated that if the CRA rolls back the seventh and eighth payment pauses, nearly 269,000 public service workers who accessed debt cancellation from September 2022 through March 2023 under the PSLF program would see their loan balances restored. The collective student debt burden put back on their shoulders would exceed $19.5 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, on average.
In addition, roughly 2 million public service workers would lose at least some progress made toward the future cancellation of more than $178 billion in student debt under the PSLF program. As a result, teachers, nurses, first responders, and others would be driven even further into debt as they continue to recover from the coronavirus crisis and brace for the possibility of additional economic devastation brought about by the GOP's current debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel," says the report.
In a statement, AFT president Randi Weingarten condemned H.J. Res. 45, calling it "a disaster."
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
"For years, the AFT and the SBPC have fought the damage forced by the Trump administration on student loan borrowers and their families," said Weingarten. "Now, MAGA politicians don't just want to stop that progress, they want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others. It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
"Public service workers have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of others," the union leader continued. "They care deeply about what kids and communities need. We have a duty to honor and respect them—that's why, 16 years ago, a bipartisan majority in Congress made a promise to help them erase their student debt in exchange for 10 years of repayments."
"We will not stand idly by as House Republicans try to return us to those dark days," she added.
SBPC executive director Mike Pierce called Wednesday's scheduled vote on the CRA resolution "a test of American values."
"Do we stand on the side of teachers, nurses, first responders, and service members who fought to keep our kids safe and our communities healthy throughout the pandemic, or do we betray their service in pursuit of Republicans' never-ending culture war?" Pierce asked.
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers," he added, "is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement that "if Congress were to pass H.J. Res. 45, the president would veto it."
"This resolution," OMB stressed, "is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief."