The guard

Biden is already withdrawing promises to provide student debt relief

Let’s be clear: whatever he may say, Biden has absolutely the power to unilaterally cancel all federal student debt. Student activists at Washington University in St. Louis pull a mock ball and chain depicting the students’ debts. Photo: Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images In his recent town hall, Joe Biden made a series of convoluted and condescending comments about American student debt. His remarks cast doubts about his ability or willingness to face the rising student loan crisis in this country. Within a few hours, #cancelstudentdebt was trending on Twitter. Biden’s far-reaching justification for the status quo was peppered with straw men, invocations of false scarcity and non-solutions. He pitted working-class Americans against each other, which means that people who attend private schools deserve no relief as if poor students don’t attend such schools too. He said money would be better spent on early childhood education than on debt relief, as if educators weren’t drowning in student debt themselves, and like we couldn’t address both concerns at the same time. He suggested relying on parents or selling a home for profit to pay off your debts, a luxury that those without wealth or intergenerational property cannot afford. And he pointed to various programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), that have completely failed borrowers: over 95% of PSLF applicants have been rejected. Contrary to Biden’s smug comments, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley recently announced that she has defaulted on her student loans. Similarly, hopeful Congresswoman Nina Turner said at a recent Debt Collective event that she and her son owe $ 100,000 together. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, of course, has confessed to being in debt, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said that becoming a Congressman is easier than paying her debts. Philadelphia councilor Kendra Brooks (who plans to institute a city resolution calling on the Biden government to cancel all student debts) has also spoken of her own struggles as a borrower. Their experience and openness – and their commitment to real solutions, including cancellation – show why we need debtors, not millionaires, in our public office. Let’s make something else clear. Biden has absolute legal authority to use executive power to cancel any federal debt. Congress granted this authority decades ago under the Higher Education Act. It has even been put to the test: in response to the Covid pandemic, Donald Trump and his former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used that authority three times to suspend payments and interest on student loans. As he wandered on, Biden made the distinct impression that he preferred not to have the power to do so. That way he could blame Congress if his election promises are not kept. (The day after the town hall, Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki tried to clear up her boss’s remarks about whether he would use executive power to cancel the students’ debts. She said the administration was still considering the option.) Biden seemed unable to keep his own election promises, which upset his student debt relief proposals. For the record he fought on two different planks. First, “Immediate” cancellation of $ 10,000 for each borrower as a form of Covid relief. Second, the cancellation of all student loans for borrowers who have attended public universities and HBCUs and are earning up to $ 125,000 per year. Keeping these two promises is the bare minimum that the Biden government must do to maintain public confidence. But the Biden government should and can do much more. Biden should cancel all student debts using executive power. This is the easiest way the new government can help tens of millions of people who are being crushed by the double blow of priceless credit and an economically devastating pandemic. So far, the Biden administration has only extended the suspension of Trump and DeVos’ suspension of student loan payments for the country’s 45 million student debtors. The continuation of flawed republican policies is hardly a progressive victory – especially not for the 8 million FFEL borrowers who are unscathed from the moratorium. Biden owes this country debt relief not just because he stood up for it, but because he helped create the problem. As a former senator from Delaware, the credit card capital of the world, for decades he carried water for financial interests and expanded access to student credit while limiting protection for borrowers. Biden’s brand is empath-in-chief, but he’s alarmingly out of touch when it comes to student debt. Biden’s notes show that he will not tackle the problem without being urged. Indeed, the fact that the president was in favor of debt relief in the first place (however inadequate his proposals may be) is evidence of ongoing grassroots efforts. The Debt Collective, a group I work with, has been campaigning for student debt eradication and a free public college for nearly a decade. On January 21st, we put the Biden Jubilee 100-100 borrowers on strike demanding full cancellation within the first hundred days of administration. A growing list of Senators and Congressmen have signed resolutions calling on Biden to cancel $ 50,000 per borrower using executive power. (It’s worth noting that the $ 50,000 figure is based on outdated research. After three years of rapidly rising debt, the scientists behind it are now recommending a $ 75,000 cancellation.) A growing chorus of voices from across the country and one Set of backgrounds screaming in line: cancel student debt. Biden’s brand is empath-in-chief, but he’s alarmingly contactless due to student debt. The president announced that his own children had borrowed for college and stated that he was “the poorest man in Congress” – which means the poorest man in a group of millionaires. He did not question the ease with which his well-connected children got well-paid jobs that would allow them to repay their loans, nor did he mention that people his age could go to college without being burdened with a mountain of debt . Today everyone wants the same opportunity that Biden and his colleagues had. Rather than acknowledging these generational differences, Biden reiterated a widespread criticism of more generous forms of student debt relief – that it would benefit the privileged, particularly the tiny subset of debtors who participated in the Ivy League. However, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response, “Very wealthy people already have a student loan program. It’s called her parents. “From today’s perspective, poor and working people tend to pay more for the same degrees than their wealthy counterparts for years or decades of monthly payments and accumulated interest. Our debt-financed higher education system is a tax on poor people who dare to lead better lives Imagine if Biden, instead of defending the status quo, used his platform to articulate the social benefits of student debt relief, he could have said that student debt relief would support 45 million Americans and over the next ten An estimated trillion dollar economic boom and millions of much-needed jobs in years to come. He could have talked about canceling student debt to fill the racial wealth gap by recognizing that black borrowers are the hardest-hit, or over it How education should be free and accessible to all if we are to expand opportunities and deepen democracy. He could have recognized that the cancellation will help seniors in trouble, especially those whose social security checks have been garnished due to student loan defaults. He could have mentioned that debt relief itself is popular with many Republicans, and that clearing his debt will help his party stay in power. He didn’t say anything about it and so we have to say it. Debtors need to organize, connect online and protest on the street. We live in a time of overlapping crises. Some of them are very difficult to solve. But canceling student debts is easy. By refusing to act, the President and his government choose to maintain a system that is causing profound, pointless, and preventable damage. Astra Taylor is the writer of Democracy May Not Exist, but we’ll miss it when it’s over, and an organizer of the Debt Collective