Lawmakers within his party continue to put the issue front and center, urging the President to cancel $50,000 for each of the 43 million federal student loan borrowers — something he has shot down repeatedly, including on Thursday.
But those moves have done little to ease the political pressure.
“Borrowers don’t just need their debts paused; they need them erased,” Schumer said from the Senate floor.
“With the flick of a pen, President Biden could provide millions upon millions of student loan borrowers a new lease on life,” the New York Democrat added.
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction. I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction,” Biden said at the White House after unveiling new funding for Ukraine.
“But I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there are going — there will be additional debt forgiveness, and I’ll have an answer on that in the next couple of weeks.”
Later Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that “there’s been no conclusion of any process internally yet.”
There are several reasons why Biden may be resisting the pull from the left wing of his party.
Legal authority is unclear
Biden made it clear during his presidential campaign, after the Covid-19 pandemic began, that he supported partial cancellation of federal student debt.
His campaign proposal called for immediately canceling a minimum of $10,000 in student debt per person as a response to the pandemic, as well as forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities for those borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year.
But he has also urged Congress to take action to cancel debt, rather than said he could use executive power to do so.
It’s not totally clear that the President’s executive authority allows him to broadly wipe away student debt. Last year, Biden directed lawyers at the Departments of Education and Justice to evaluate whether he does, in fact, have the power to broadly cancel federal student loan debt. The administration has not disclosed those findings.
Inflation is a key issue for voters
Millions of people would be able to spend money — roughly $4 billion a month, per one estimate — on things other than their monthly student loan payments. And people may be more likely to make big purchases, like cars or houses, if they no longer have student debt hanging over their heads.
“It’s not gigantic,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“In a normal inflation environment, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But we’re in a very precarious situation right now and at risk of inflation spiraling out of control,” he added.
Canceling debt could benefit a lot of wealthy people
Biden has repeatedly said he is committed to making sure wealthy Americans pay their fair share and has proposed raising taxes on the richest Americans. Canceling student debt could run afoul of that policy goal.
A more targeted approach, like canceling debt for borrowers who earn less than a certain income threshold or canceling loans borrowed only for undergraduate degrees, could help make sure more of the benefit is reaching the Americans most in need.
“If you don’t fix the system, these problems are going to reoccur and we’ll be back in the same crisis we are now,” Looney said.
Psaki said Thursday that the President continues to consider some type of means testing when it comes to loan cancellation.
“He has talked in the past about how he doesn’t believe that millionaires or billionaires should benefit — or even people from the highest income — so that is certainly something he would be looking at,” she said.
To date, Biden’s actions have delivered more than $17 billion in targeted student debt relief to 725,000 borrowers. About $3.2 billion of that was canceled for borrowers who had been defrauded by their for-profit colleges.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.