WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden expressed openness to forgiving some student loan debt in a private meeting with some House Democrats, prompting Senate Republicans to introduce legislation to stop him from doing so by executive action.
In a meeting Monday with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, Biden was asked by Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., to extend the moratorium on federal loan payments and cancel $10,000 per borrower in student debt, two sources familiar with the meeting told NBC News , adding that he was receptive to both requests.
One congressional aid family with the meeting said Biden left members with the understanding that he’s leaning toward some forgiveness of student debt.
“The president was incredibly receptive to that. He gave the impression that it’s a priority of his, and he said he understands it’s on young people’s minds,” said the aide, who discussed the private meeting on condition of anonymity.
The aid said Biden stopped short of a guarantee and didn’t offer a dollar amount or timeline. “He basically said: You’re going to be happy with what I do about student loan debt relief,” the aide said.
The cause has been pushed by Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates who say young people are struggling under more than $1.73 trillion in student debt and need relief. Some argue he has the executive power to cancel debt, which Biden has for months been reluctant to do unilaterally.
“We’re getting closer and closer and closer on student loans. I’ve been working relentlessly on the president and his staff, and they seem more open to it now than ever before, ”Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said Wednesday. “There’s nothing done yet, but I am really hopeful that the goal that we have had, $50,000 of student loans canceled, is getting more and more likely.”
A source familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking said it continues to assess options and emphasized that no decision has been on debt cancellation. The source cautioned against expecting a sweeping forgiveness policy and said it’s likely that any decision on student debt relief or cancellation will be linked to income, much like the stimulus checks under his Covid relief bill.
Republicans strongly oppose the idea of student debt forgiveness.
A group of Republicans led by Senate Minority Whip Thune, RS.D., is introducing a bill to prevent Biden from canceling student loan debt, according to legislative text obtained by NBC News.
The bill, called the Stop Reckless Student Loan Actions Act of 2022, states that the executive branch has “abused” its authority to pause student loan payments during the Covid pandemic. Then-President Donald Trump first paused the payments in 2020 and both he and Biden continued to extend the moratorium. The most recent pause is set to last through Aug. 31.
Thune introduced the bill with Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Richard Burr, RN.C., Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas. It’s unlikely to go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled chamber, but it serves as a messaging vehicle against Biden and his allies of him.
In an interview, Braun said he opposes student debt forgiveness on the merits, fearing it would add to the national debt and arguing that it would benefit families who can afford to pay down the loans.
“I’m going to be very hesitant about forgiving debt in the sense that it looks like most of it would be forgiven to families that can afford to pay it,” Braun said. “And I think it’s symptomatic of so many things around here where we borrow the money, spend it on host of things and then worry about how heavy a load it is down the road.”
Braun also predicted that any executive action by Biden to cancel student debt would be challenged in court.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that student loan relief is “a vital priority to the president,” and noted that “not a single person in this country has paid a dime on federal student loans since the president took office.”
In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, Cárdenas said, “We’d love to see him eliminate student debt across the board but anything in that direction is going to be a positive effort and we look forward to the president doing so.”
Ali Vitaly contributed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism