Lawmakers and advocates who have attempted to push President Biden to respond on student loan forgiveness were shocked and disappointed this week when he failed to respond to a reporter’s question on the subject.
During his marathon press event on Wednesday, Biden was questioned if he still intends to cancel $10,000 in student loans, as he promised during his initiative, but he did not respond.
“We’re looking for a straight solution from our president — I don’t believe I’ve noticed one yet,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a democratic socialist who has been vocal in her opposition to the student loan crisis.
Biden has lengthened the student loan repayment moratorium until May, providing some relief to borrowers in the midst of record COVID-19 cases.
However, there has been increasing pressure on the president to pardon student debt, particularly in light of the forthcoming midterm elections, and broad-based mercy has gained support among Democratic politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.).
Approximately 43 million Americans owe the federal govt a total of more than $1.7 trillion in student loans.
“If only students could stay out of debt the way Biden avoids questions about false promises,” said Thomas Gokey, a Debt Collective organizer.
When The Hill asked why Biden didn’t answer the question and what the response would be, an Administration Official said the president endorses Congress providing $10,000 in debt relief and that he is looking into what debt relief activities can be taken officially.
The representative also noted the December repayment pause.
“I’m glad to see the press continuing to nail the president and press secretary on this issue,” said Cody Hounanian, executive director of Student Debt Crisis Center (SDCC). “What it implies to me is that, regardless of what this administration does, the media and the general public will remember what he promised on the campaign trail.”
The student loan question was followed by another unconnected one from a reporter at the close of the nearly two-hour media briefing, so Biden’s non-answer could have been unintentional.
“Honestly, I think he dodged it because he could,” said Robert Moran, a former senior policy analyst in President George W. Bush’s Education Department and now a superintendent at Bose Public Affairs Group. “And loans are such a hot topic right now, and with the actual question, the reporter gave him an out.” He primarily won’t mention it because, one, he didn’t have to, and, two, he didn’t need to get into the back and forth of “We don’t have the power to do it.”
Hovnanian mentioned that the White House has previously avoided questions about student loans, citing the president and press secretary Jen Psaki as examples.
“It feels like another one of those deformations when I hear the president ignore queries like this,” he said.
In April, the president demanded a letter from the Education Department to decide his authority to cancel student debt, but the administration has yet to provide an update on its status.
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When asked if the Department Of education is finished with the memo, a spokesperson said the department is working with the White House to “review debt cancellation options.”
Advocates and many Democrats, on the other hand, have made up their minds: Biden has the authority to repent loans through executive authority, and he should use it.
“The student debt crisis is unique in that it cuts across intellectual, racial, and financial lines, affecting every single zip code and society in our country in such a way that President Biden has a rare chance to help the entire nation with the stroke of his pen,” Bush said. “The President has the power to cancel student debt, and he should exercise that authority.”
Bush mentioned that debtors are disparately Black and brown and that Black women have the highest average student loan debt of any demographic, with more than $37,000, compared to $31,000 for white women.
According to a May 2021 analysis by the American Association of University Women, Black women owed approximately 20% more student loan debt than white women.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat from New York, promised to keep pushing Biden on the matter, pointing out that Biden has proceeded to prolong the loan payment temporary ban enacted by then-President Trump in March 2020.
Advocates say that too much is at stake for the president to remain quiet on the matter.
Moran contended that if Biden forgave the $10,000-per-borrower pledge he made during the campaign, it would exert pressure on him to go higher.
Hovnanian was upbeat after the press conference, arguing that Biden’s non-answer could imply the White House hasn’t ruled out further action.