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Student debt forgiveness isn't in Biden's annual budget—here's why experts say that's 'not surprising'

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President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 20, 2021.
NICHOLAS KAMM | AFP | Getty Images

On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden issued his support for $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years and $50,000. Since then, House and Senate Democrats repeatedly urged Biden to "broadly" forgive up to $50,000 of federal debt through executive order during his first 100 days in office.

Biden's first 100 days are now behind him and he has repeatedly pushed back against leaders of his own party, stating that he will only support up to $10,000 of debt forgiveness and that he would prefer Congress craft the legislation. 

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that several "ambitious Biden campaign pledges" will likely be left out of the annual White House budget — including student debt forgiveness. The Biden administration is reportedly reviewing federal student loan relief programs separately.

But higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz says the news is "not surprising." He says those interested in the future of student debt forgiveness should instead pay close attention to the memo Biden has requested about the use of executive authority to cancel student loans. 

"President Biden is still waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education to report on their review of his legal authority to forgive student loan debt through executive order," explains Kantrowitz. "Only after he receives that report, which I expect will find that he does not have the legal authority, will the ball be in Congress' court."

Student debt forgiveness has been notably missing from Biden's proposed stimulus packages and his infrastructure package. And Forbes contributor Zack Friedman argues that the number one reason Biden is unlikely to cancel student loans is simple: if he wanted to, he would have done it already.

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Experts like Persis Yu, director of The National Consumer Law Center's Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project are more optimistic that the memo will conclude that the president has the executive authority to forgive student loans. 

"Student loan borrowers are eager to see President Biden follow through on his campaign promise to provide widespread debt cancellation, especially as we are getting closer to the end of the payment suspension currently set for September 30. Biden has said that he is reviewing the legality of student debt cancellation," she says. "We are confident that this review will reach the same conclusion that we have reached: that the President already has the authority to provide widespread student debt cancellation with the stroke of a pen."

In response to the economic hardships caused by the pandemic, Presidents Trump and Biden both used their executive authority to pause federal student loan payments. The policy is currently set to expire on Oct. 1, 2021.

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