President Joe Biden's student loan debt forgiveness plan is being crafted to invigorate liberal voters heading into the midterm elections.
Biden told reporters in late April that he is considering using executive authority to eliminate a sizable chunk of student debt but that it will be less than the $50,000 per borrower proposed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in recent weeks. His promise of having a final answer in the "next couple of weeks" was a significant skip forward from his previous target date of August.
Though the president has yet to make a decision on whether to extend blanket debt forgiveness in the neighborhood of $10,000 per borrower, he has recently started celebrating his action to expand access to federal repayment plans.
"The first thing we did was reform the system that was in place that didn't work for anybody that allowed people to write off debt if they engaged in public service," he told reporters on Friday. "Seven hundred and some thousand have had debt forgiven, their whole debt forgiven, because of their work working either as teachers or other means by which they qualify, and we continue to make that easier."
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White House officials noted to the Washington Examiner that as of Monday, the administration has canceled debt for more than 113,000 borrowers, worth an estimated $6.8 billion, by reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Biden has also signed executive orders fully forgiving student loan debt for those with total and permanent disabilities, attendees of ITT Technical Institute prior to its closing, and students defrauded by their schools through "borrower defense to student loan repayments."
Still, Biden faces major pressure from liberal activists and lawmakers to move quickly on debt both to keep one of his core campaign promises and give Democrats momentum heading into November.
A number of Democratic officials signaled to the Washington Examiner that they believe student debt presents an opportune moment for the president to make headway with voters on "advancing gender and racial equity," considering black borrowers on average finish bachelor's degrees with nearly $5,000 more in debt than white borrowers, with the disparity between black and white female borrowers being even larger.
"This is a major problem facing younger Americans, but it's also obviously a potential huge win for President Biden after [Sen. Joe] Manchin blocked him from addressing voting rights," one official said. "The party needs black voters to turn out at 2020 levels to hold on to congressional majorities, which will be essential to furthering the president's economic agenda. Two birds, one stone."
Fiscal conservatives have maintained significant concerns about the impact Biden's plan will have on an economy that shrank in the first quarter of 2022.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that despite some outside predictions from outside analysts that wide-scale debt forgiveness could exacerbate the inflationary run, the White House does not have an "internal" assessment for that specific scenario.
She has also avoided directly addressing criticism from some Republicans that the plan is an effort to buy votes ahead of the midterm elections. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) called the act an outright "bribe."
"I would say, you know, the president's view is that, as the leader of the country, what he needs to do is continue to provide relief to people who need it most to help people get some extra breathing room," she said when asked about Romney's comments during a briefing at the end of April. "And that includes getting people — this consideration of getting people relief who have taken steps to further their education and maybe take steps to advance their family circumstances."
Another Democratic official discounted Republican criticism, telling the Washington Examiner that the debt forgiveness is an investment back into America's families and makes good on Biden's hopes of building the economy "from bottom up and the middle out."
Biden is expected to provide some type of income cap on the forgiveness, and Psaki said during Monday's press briefing that the White House is "making sure it's targeted to those graduates who have the greatest need."
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"It wasn't meant to discriminate. It's more meant to make a point about where the needs are greatest, and that's why he has talked about, in the past, having an income cap as well," she continued. "But we're not at the point where we have a final proposal or a final executive action or anything along those lines."