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Plan B to cancel student loan debt? The White House won’t go there even as pressure mounts

Plan B to cancel student loan debt? The White House won’t go there even as pressure mounts

USA Today

Joey Garrison
March 4, 2023
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden faces growing pressure to develop an alternative plan to cancel student loan debt for millions of Americans after the executive action he took last year ran into a buzz saw from a majority of Supreme Court justices Tuesday.
The court’s conservative majority expressed deep skepticism over Biden’s plan to wipe out $400 billion in student loan debt, suggesting the president overstepped his authority during oral arguments in a closely watched challenge of Biden’s program.
Some liberal constituency groups and student loan advocates want Biden to work on a backup plan to provide sweeping debt relief given the strong possibility the high court strikes down Biden’s plan.
But publicly, the White House won’t even entertain the idea of a Plan B, insisting Biden followed the law when he cited a provision in the 2003 HEROES Act that allows the education secretary to “waive” or “modify” student loans during a national emergency.
As the 26 million Americans who applied for student loan cancellation await a court decision likely to come in June, the White House is only willing to talk about Plan A.
Student loan debt forgiveness on shaky legal ground
  • “Not confident”: Even Biden seemed doubtful this week the Supreme Court will uphold his action. “I’m confident we’re on the right side of the law,” Biden told reporters the day after the court hearing. “But I’m not confident about the outcome of the decision yet.”
  • Authority questioned: Chief Justice John Roberts questioned a central premise of Biden’s argument: that the president has authority to cancel student loans without explicit authority from Congress. “We take very seriously the idea of the separation of powers and that power should be divided to prevent its abuse,” he said.
  • Fairness: Roberts’ support is likely crucial for Biden to garner the five votes needed for a majority. Yet in another troubling sign, conservatives justices led by Roberts raised what they called “the fairness argument,” echoing a common criticism from Biden’s opponents that forgiving debt punishes Americans who didn’t attend college and those who already paid off their student loans.
  • Could standing save plan? The best chance for Biden’s plan to prevail could be on standing – that the states suing the Biden administration weren’t actually injured by Biden’s action and therefore can’t sue. Justices Amy Coney Barrett posed several questions on standing, suggesting she could side with the court’s three liberals, but one more vote would still be needed for a majority.
  • “Multiple options”: The NAACP’s Wisdom Cole, national director of the group’s Youth and College Division, told USA TODAY the White House needs to have “multiple options” to make sure debt forgiveness happens if the court overturns Biden. “We need to make sure that we are ready to attack from all angles.”
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