Democrats Pressure Biden to Cancel $50,000 of Student Debt Per Borrower

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a resolution Thursday urging President Joe Biden to use executive action to eliminate $50,000 in student debt per borrower in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has left millions of Americans unemployed.

“College should be a ladder up. For too many people debt is the anchor that weighs them down and they rarely overcome it,” Schumer said.

Speaking at a press conference with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Schumer said he has spoken with Biden about the issue and is pushing the president to be more generous with the amount of debt that would be forgiven for each borrower. The two senators were joined by Representatives Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alma Adams of North Carolina and Mondaire Jones of New York, all co-sponsors of a companion resolution in the House.

On Biden’s first day in office he extended a pause on student loan principal and interest payments initially implemented as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The fact that congressional Democrats are attempting to pass a non-binding resolution urging Biden to act -- rather than introducing a bill to accomplish the same goal -- shows how difficult it will be for Democrats to pass most legislation that needs 60 votes to pass the Senate.

As a candidate Biden promised to forgive undergraduate loans of up to $10,000 per borrower, which some progressives have said is not enough. Under Biden’s proposal, students who attended public colleges or historically Black private colleges would qualify for additional forgiveness if their families make less than $125,000.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a White House briefing Thursday that Biden continues to support the $10,000 debt forgiveness. But she also said it is up to Congress “to take additional steps” and pass legislation to cancel federal student loan debt.

She added later on Twitter that, “Our team is reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action and he would welcome the opportunity to sign a bill sent to him by Congress.”

There is a political element to Schumer’s leadership on the issue as he seeks to shore up his support among progressives, especially young people, ahead of his re-election campaign next year. Taking on student debt could help him fend of a primary challenge if he faces someone like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat who defeated a longtime incumbent in a primary to win her seat in 2018.

Warren introduced a similar resolution with Schumer in September urging Donald Trump to eliminate the debt. In November, she urged Biden to take action on student debt on his first day in office.

“Canceling student loan debt is the single most effective executive action that President Biden can take to kick start this economy” Warren said Thursday, adding that it would “lift the economic prospects of tens of millions of young Americans.”

Civil Rights Issue

The resolution’s sponsors emphasized the racial element to the problem of student debt. Schumer said eliminating student debt will be a necessary step toward closing the racial wealth gap.

“This is also a civil rights issue, a disproportionate amount of student debt falls on people of color,” Schumer said. “These poor folks don’t even have a degree and then they can’t get a good job.”

An October study by JPMorgan Chase & Co. found that one in ten Black borrowers were unable to make payments on their student loans compared to one in 39 White borrowers. Black and Hispanic borrowers in the study also had incomes about 22% lower than their White counterparts.

When asked about how much the resolution would cost, Warren said it would cost about $650 billion.

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