Did Joe Biden backtrack on poll promise? Prez unlikely to give student debt relief but experts not surprised

Biden had pledged support for $10K of student debt relief annually for five years but his position has changed now which is likely to irk the progressives in his party


                            Did Joe Biden backtrack on poll promise? Prez unlikely to give student debt relief but experts not surprised
President Joe Biden and protesters demanding cancelation of students' debt (Getty Images)
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During his run for the White House, President Joe Biden backed the idea of giving students (undergraduate or graduate) debt relief. The veteran Democratic leader proposed setting up a program that offered $10k of debt relief for every year of national or community service up to five years and a total of $50k. His encouraged party colleagues both in the House and Senate have repeatedly urged him since then to forgive up to $50k of federal debt through executive order during his first 100 days in office. Those 100 days are now over but Biden hasn't done anything about it.

In fact, it is now reported that Biden is likely to take a U-turn on the matter. Last Friday, May 21, The Washington Post reported that several “ambitious Biden campaign pledges” are likely to be excluded from the annual White House budget and they include the student debt relief. Forbes reported on Monday, May 24, that the Biden administration is set to review and overhaul regulations that govern major federal student relief programs, including the student loan forgiveness programs.

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The president, who returned to the White House on Sunday, May 23, from a weekend outing to Camp David, is set to announce his latest budget at the end of next week and has reportedly grown suspicious of loan relief. Biden had been under pressure from progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to forgive the student debt. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was also in favor of the same.

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Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Getty Images)

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Why should the public pay, Biden asks

The New York Times reported last week that Biden said he now suspects the idea of canceling debt. “The idea that you go to Penn and you're paying a total of 70,000 bucks a year and the public should pay for that? I don't agree,” he told the outlet. Previously, the White House said Biden wanted to see student debt getting wiped out through a Congress legislation and not executive order.

In April, Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain said the former was mulling scrapping up to $50k in debt. He told Politico Playbook that Biden even asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to confirm whether he is legally equipped to wipe out the loan debt. In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said they were still ‘exploring options’ concerning student loan policy. “The President continues to call on Congress to cancel $10,000 in debt for student loan borrowers,” Psaki said, adding: “That’s something Congress could take an action on, and he'd be happy to sign.”

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. The group of Democrats re-introduced their resolution calling on President Joe Biden to take executive action to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers. (Getty Images)

Americans have over $1.7 trillion in student debt and according to the federal reserve, more than 30 percent of all the country’s adults have student loans, even when the country is fighting a pandemic-fueled recession and high unemployment.

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Experts not surprised by Biden U-turn

However, while the president’s U-turn could see the progressive wing of his party fuming (Ocasio-Cortez already expressed her disappointment in February), experts are not too surprised. Higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz told CNBC that the news is “not surprising”. According to him, those who expressed interest in what lies ahead for student debt relief should rather focus on the memo that Biden has sought about the use of executive order to scrap student loans. “President Biden is still waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education to report on their review of his legal authority to forgive student loan debt through executive order,” Kantrowitz said, adding: “Only after he receives that report, which I expect will find that he does not have the legal authority, will the ball be in Congress’ court.”

Forbes contributor Zack Friedman said from the fact that student debt relief has not featured in Biden’s proposed stimulus and infrastructure packages, one could well deduce that he was unlikely to cancel student loans. According to him, if Biden really wanted to do it, he would have done it by now. 

Both Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump used executive power to pause federal student loan payments in view of the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The policy is set to expire on October 1 this year.  

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