Schumer, Warren call on Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, speaks during a news conference on student loan debt in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Democrats in Congress are increasing their pressure on the Biden administration to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for federal student loan borrowers.

On Thursday, a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., reintroduced a resolution pushing the Education Department to use existing authority to relieve the financial burden on tens of millions who hold student debt. The Democrats contended the move would help to reduce the racial wealth gap in the U.S. and inject more money into an economy struggling under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The student debt crisis has always been a racial and economic justice issue,” Pressley told reporters Thursday.

President Joe Biden, who as a candidate said he would cancel up to $10,000 in federal student debt, has said he wants Congress to approve the policy. The Democrats championing forgiveness are pushing him to take executive action, as they could face challenges getting debt cancelation through Congress.

Warren called cancelation of up to $50,000 in debt “the single most effective executive action” Biden can take to “kick-start this economy” and “to help close the racial wealth gap.”

Along with Warren, Schumer and Pressley, at least 14 other senators and 45 representatives signed on to the resolution reintroduced Thursday. The movement has gained traction, as the resolution was put forward only in the Senate during the previous Congress.

Schumer said he and Warren have met with Biden about the issue and “are pushing the president and his people.”

The federal government held more than $1.5 trillion in student debt for about 43 million borrowers in the fourth quarter of last year, according to government data. Forgiveness of up to $50,000 in debt could wipe out the burden for as many as 36 million people.

Since the passage of the CARES Act last March, the federal government has paused student loan payments and interest accumulation to offer relief during the pandemic. The Biden administration extended the forbearance through September.

The president did not, however, include debt forgiveness in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Democrats aim to pass in the coming weeks.

The mounting loan crisis became a focus of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, as Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both made debt cancelation a central campaign plank. When Biden adopted limited debt cancelation as a campaign policy, it was seen as a victory for Warren and the more progressive members of the party.

Critics of Warren and Sanders’ policies during the campaign said their plans would most help high-earning Americans who accumulated a pile of debt while getting more than one degree. Democrats hope to assuage those concerns by capping relief at $50,000 now.

Schumer and Warren also wrote in a CNBC op-ed last month that debt relief would help older Americans as well as younger individuals. They noted that 6.3 million borrowers between ages 50 and 64 are paying back a loved one’s loans.

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