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The politics of canceling student loan debt


Practical Politics

By David L. Horne, Ph.D. | OpEd contributor

Candidate and now POTUS Joe Biden , as many politicians do, made a few significant campaign promises to an important constituent when he ran for president in 2020. It worked. Biden got a huge percentage of the youth vote in the last election.

Contrary to many other politicians, President Biden has shown himself to be an honorable man in at least trying to follow through on most of those promises. Since he seems to be edging towards announcing his plan this year to run for a second term as POTUS , that trait may prove very decisive again.  It clearly will be important as there currently exists a great wave of public discontent with the honesty and integrity of elected politicians in the country. The situation with current Congressman Santos is but a very prominent example.

One of President Biden’s most significant promises made to youthful voters was to cut student loan indebtedness, i.e., reduce, if not eliminate, the onerous loan repayments millions of former college/university students still face daily. Since Congress did not give him that direct authority in new legislation before the 2022 midterms and is unlikely to do so now, President Biden has issued an executive order to significantly reduce student loan indebtedness through his authority over the Department of Education.  The administration estimates that up to 40 million people would be eligible for such debt relief under the Biden plan and the elimination of what is a significant monthly challenge to a decent life in the U.S.

Nearly one-third of student borrowers currently still have debt, yet did not even earn a college degree, according to the Department of Education. Many former students—estimates say about 16% of relevant borrowers—remain in serious loan default. Those numbers even include nearly a third of student loan debtors who are now senior citizens with student debt, and those numbers are a major factor in Black student higher education. The issue with the elderly can cause reductions in Social Security and Medicare payments. This issue, in other words, is very, very serious.

President Biden has thus recently authorized a major national student indebtedness reduction plan that the Department of Education estimates can eliminate or reduce the student debt of over 40 million Americans, and the plan is estimated to cost over $400 billion dollars of government money. And just as surely as ugly people still exist, there has been a Republican-based legal challenge to the Biden administration’s authority to issue such relief through an executive order of the President. That legal challenge has now reached the Supreme Court, where the Biden administration has thus far had a losing record.

The U.S. Supreme Court is to hear arguments this week in two cases that challenge the Biden student loan forgiveness program: Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education. v. Brown. The two state-based plaintiffs assert that the POTUS does not have the legal authority to issue such an executive order to end student indebtedness.

But some experts say Biden has more than a tinker’s  chance of eking out a narrow win in both cases, either based on the current state of the law, which gives the Department of Education the power to  “waive or modify” loan rules to help Americans suffering as the result of an emergency, such as the pandemic, and another rule which gives the administration the authority, under the Higher Education Act of 1965, to “…modify, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption.”

Also important here is the issue of whether the state officers who sued the Biden administration have the legal standing in court to bring such a suit, that is, whether the plaintiffs have the correct standing in the case. Either positive ruling could hand the win to the Biden administration and to student debtors.

We await the results with heightened anticipation.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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