Biden rules out canceling $50,000 in student debt — but Schumer and Warren plan to keep pushing him

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden ruled out canceling up to $50,000 per borrower in student debt, but said he is still open to forgiving up to $10,000 in obligations.
  • Advocates for debt forgiveness including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren said they would keep pressuring Biden to forgive student loans.
  • Biden argued in part that he did not want the policy to disproportionately benefit high earners who went to elite colleges.
President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall in Milwaukee on Feb. 16, 2021.
Leah Millis | Reuters

President Joe Biden shot down his fellow Democrats' push to forgive up to $50,000 in federal student debt per borrower.

"I will not make that happen," the president responded when an attendee at a CNN town hall Tuesday night asked him what he would do to cancel a loan burden of up to $50,000 for millions of Americans.

The comments will disappoint student loan holders waiting to see whether Biden eases their financial strain and congressional Democrats who have urged him to take action. Lawmakers led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., earlier this month pushed Biden to cancel $50,000 in debt and argued he had the power to do so without Congress.

On Tuesday, Biden said, "I don't think I have the authority" to forgive such a large debt burden through executive action. He added that he is "prepared to write off $10,000 in debt" — the amount he proposed during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Biden has said he would sign legislation forgiving up to $10,000 in student loans if Congress passes it. The White House is also reviewing his legal authority on the issue.

Schumer and Warren on Wednesday again called on Biden to cancel $50,000 in debt. In a joint statement, the senators noted that Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump used executive power to forgive student loans and said they are confident the Biden administration will agree with legal experts "who have concluded that the administration has broad authority to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans."

"An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans," Schumer and Warren said. "Cancelling $50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40% of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy. It's time to act. We will keep fighting."

In ruling out forgiving $50,000 in debt, Biden said he had concerns about disproportionately helping people who went to prestigious colleges and secured high-paying jobs. The president said he would rather use the money to pay for early childhood education.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., criticized Biden's arguments in a pair of tweets early Wednesday. She downplayed the importance of the school borrowers attended, saying "entire generations of working class kids were encouraged to go into more debt under the guise of elitism."

She added that the government should not have to make a choice between supporting early childhood education and relieving student debt.

"We can have both," Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

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