President Joe Biden has signaled he might forgive some student loan debt and further extend the federal moratorium on repayments, a lawmaker who discussed the issue with him said Wednesday.
Is a $1.6 trillion spending spree of student loan forgiveness next? It would also be a win for socialist Democrats and progressive leaders who have long pressed Biden to carry through on a 2020 campaign promise that as president he would “immediately” cancel up to $10,000 in debt per student.
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Biden’s remarks came during a wide-ranging Monday meeting at the White House with seven members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, according to Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., who was among them. He said in an interview Wednesday that he asked Biden to extend the moratorium on debt payments through this year, instead of letting it expire Aug. 31.
“He immediately smiled and said, “I’ve extended in the past, and you’re going to like what I do next,’” Cardenas said. “So I said, ‘Okay, wonderful. Next question.’”
Cardenas said he then asked about forgiving at least $10,000 in debt for each student, which he said the caucus believes Biden can do using executive powers. That would preclude the need for legislation from Congress, where there is some Democrat and universal Republican opposition.
“He said, ‘Yes, I’m exploring doing something on that front,’” said Cardenas. “And he also smiled and said, ‘You’re going to like what I do on that as well.’”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., repeated the refrain Wednesday. “I think the president is moving in our direction. My talks with him and his staff have been very fruitful over the last little while,” Schumer said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that during the meeting, “what he reiterated is that he will make a decision before” the current repayment suspension ends Aug. 31. She said Biden “is looking at other executive authority options he has to bring relief to people who have student loans.”
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Sweeping student loan forgiveness is anathema for many Republicans and others concerned about its costs to the government at a time of huge federal deficits.
It also does nothing to address the underlying problems of the spirling debt crisis, largely linked to huge increases in college tuition and predatory loans being aimed at young adults who don’t need a plan on how to pay back the tens of thousands in their investment. Critics call student loan forgiveness a welfare check for the middle and upper class.
“Desperate polls call for desperate measures: Dems consider forgiving trillions in student loans,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted mockingly Wednesday. “Other bribe suggestions: Forgive auto loans? Forgive credit card debt? Forgive mortgages? And put a wealth tax on the super-rich to pay for it all. What could possibly go wrong?”
Cardenas said Biden didn’t specify when he would take action or detail what he would do, beyond saying, “Soon.”
“I got the strong feeling, and so did my colleagues, that he enjoyed answering those questions with his body language, with his words, with the smile on his face, and encouraging us that we’re going to like what he’s going to do,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas said the question of whether debt forgiveness should be curbed for higher-income students, which could curb the costs of the proposal, did not come up during the White House meeting. He also said when Biden asked if forgiveness should apply to borrowers who attended private and public schools, he and other lawmakers said they wanted students from both types of institutions to be eligible.
Some Democrats fear using taxpayer dollars to pay off the loans of students who attended expensive private universities would provide an easy campaign target for Republicans in this fall’s elections for control of Congress.
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The pandemic prompted then-President Donald Trump and Congress to begin providing student loan relief in March 2020.
After initially letting borrowers choose to suspend payments for at least 60 days, the moratorium was made automatic and eventually extended several times by Trump and later Biden. Interest rates during the suspension have been 0%.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.