Democrats Shift Gears To Student Loan Plan B

Democrats are looking for a workaround after the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden's student loan debt forgiveness plan.

WASHINGTON ― Democrats are vowing not to give up on student loan debt relief after the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s forgiveness plan on Friday, denying help to more than 40 million borrowers.

“This fight is not over,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The President has more tools to cancel student debt — and he must use them. More than 40 million hard working Americans are waiting for the help that President Biden promised them, and they expect this administration to throw everything they’ve got into the fight until they make good on this commitment.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), another vocal advocate for student loan debt cancellation, argued that the Biden administration can move to forgive student loans by citing provisions of the Higher Education Act, a 1965 law that established federal aid programs for college costs.

“It is very important to note this SCOTUS ruling does NOT remove Biden’s ability to pursue student loan forgiveness,” Ocasio Cortez tweeted. “The Biden Admin can use the HEA (Higher Ed Act) ― our position from the start ― to continue loan forgiveness before payments resume. They should do so ASAP.”

Biden announced on Friday that he would indeed seek to invoke that law to provide student loan relief, calling it “legally sound,” but adding that it will “take longer.”

Biden’s initial plan would have forgiven up to $20,000 in student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for other borrowers who made less than $125,000 a year in 2020 or 2021. The administration cited his authority to cancel loans under the 2003 HEROES Act, which allowed the president to waive student loan debt terms during a national emergency. In this case, Biden cited the COVID-19 national emergency, which he ended earlier this year.

But the six conservative justices on the Supreme Court disagreed, writing that Biden only had the authority to make “modest adjustments and additions to existing provisions” to the HEROES Act, “not transform them.”

In dissent, liberal Justice Elana Kagan ripped the majority opinion for exceeding “its proper, limited role in our Nation’s governance.” She wrote that the law allowed the administration to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision” and “replace the old provisions with new ‘terms and conditions.’”

The government has previously said that a pandemic-related payment pause will end on Sept. 1, meaning payments will be due in October. As for the forgiveness program, a notice on on Friday tells borrowers the U.S. Department of Education is “reviewing the Court’s decision to determine next steps.”

McKenzie Ball of Bozeman, Montana, said he would have had $14,000 in student debt wiped out by the Biden plan. He doesn’t have much faith that any Plan B schemes could have the same impact.

“I’m not going to expect the political process to work in my favor,” Ball, 37, told HuffPost. “It would have been nice, but I accept the fact that my name’s on the loan.”

Ball works as a sales coordinator for a company that makes outdoor gear. He said he borrowed nearly $40,000 to pay for his degree in political science and spent years in the nonprofit sector before he switched careers to cover the rising costs of Bozeman, where he grew up and would like to be able to buy a house and maybe start a family.

Ball said having to resume forking over around $260 per month will be a significant setback.

“I’m driving a 2000 Subaru with 200,000 miles on it, it’s rusted out, and I’m going to be putting off buying a new car,” Ball said. “Homeownership is not something I really expect to have an opportunity to experience anytime soon.”

Biden is expected to announce further actions his administration will take to protect student loan borrowers on Friday.

“The hypocrisy of Republican elected officials is stunning,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “They had no problem with billions in pandemic-related loans to businesses – including hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars for their own businesses. And those loans were forgiven. But when it came to providing relief to millions of hard-working Americans, they did everything in their power to stop it.”

The Higher Education Act allows the secretary of education to waive loans without specific requirements. It’s been used to cancel student debt before, albeit in limited cases. Last year, the Department of Education forgave $6 billion in loans for defrauded students. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump’s administration eliminated student loan debt for 25,000 disabled veterans.

But relying on the HEA could face obstacles from the same Supreme Court majority. In his 6-3 opinion on Friday, Chief Justice John Roberts included a note about the limits of relief in the Higher Education Act, which he said pertained only to some public servants, borrowers who have died or become disabled, borrowers who are bankrupt, and those who have been defrauded.

The Education Department announced earlier this month that its three-year moratorium on payments and interest on student loans will end in October. The budget deal Biden signed into law that lifted the debt ceiling included a provision, insisted upon by Republicans, ending the pause.

Democrats said the coming expiration is even more reason for Biden to continue the fight on student loan forgiveness.

“The Biden administration has remaining legal routes to provide broad-based student debt cancellation,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Friday. “With the pause on student loan payments set to expire in weeks, I call upon the administration to do everything in its power to deliver for millions of working- and middle-class Americans struggling with student loan debt.”

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