BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
- A White House official told reporters that Biden is not “deliberating or considering” a backup plan to cancel student debt.
- This comes as the Supreme Court is taking up two lawsuits next month that are currently blocking Biden’s broad relief.
- The White House maintains confidence in its authority, but advocates have argued there’s another route.
The White House is so confident in President Joe Biden’s student-loan forgiveness plan that it isn’t weighing a backup right now if the nation’s highest court strikes it down.
On Friday, the White House released new data showing how many borrowers applied for Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt before two conservative-backed lawsuits halted the process. In total, 26,260,000 borrowers submitted applications for the relief before the online form closed in October, and 16,486,000 of those applications were fully approved and sent to student-loan companies to discharge those borrowers’ debt.
But whether borrowers will actually see that relief is uncertain because the Supreme Court is set to take up the two lawsuits that blocked the implementation of the relief on February 28. Each of the lawsuits argued that Biden does not have the authority to enact broad relief using the HEROES Act of 2003, which gives the Education Secretary the ability to waive or modify student-loan balances in connection with a national emergency — and the Supreme Court will make the final call on whether the president’s plan is legal.
In the meantime, though, administration officials are not considering an alternative route if the court’s decision doesn’t go its way.
“We feel confident in our authority under the HEROES Act to take the action that we have taken,” Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters on a Thursday press call ahead of the data release.
“Obviously, the Supreme Court will weigh in on that soon,” he added. “But we are not deliberating or considering any other kind of alternative approach. We’re fully committed to the approach that the Secretary of Education used in this case, and we’re confident in our legal authority.”
Ramamurti also said that in light of the litigation, Biden extended the student-loan payment pause 60 days after June 30, or 60 days after the lawsuits are resolved, whichever happens first, and “that that should give us enough time after the Supreme Court rules to transition to the next phase of all of this.”
Still, some advocates and Democratic lawmakers have been pushing the administration to consider taking a route to enact debt relief that would not rely on a national emergency, like COVID-19. As Insider previously reported, the Higher Education Act of 1965 would be another legal path Biden could take because it states that the Education Department can “enforce, pay, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand” related to federal student debt, absent any emergency.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for example, pushed for that route in 2021, but the White House is maintaining confidence in the HEROES Act and continues to believe it will hold up in court.
“We’re confident the Department has the authority to ensure the financial impacts of the pandemic do not set borrowers up for failure when payments resume,” Jordan Matsudaira, deputy under secretary and chief economist at the Education Department, told reporters. “And when we hopefully prevail, the Biden-Harris team will do everything it takes to make sure every borrower who qualifies for debt relief is able to get it.”