Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called on President Biden to release to the public information he previously requested from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding his legal authority to cancel student loan debt.
The call came in a letter led by Omar addressed to Biden and Cardona on Friday.
Omar and other lawmakers asked that the information be released to the public by Oct. 22, saying “the time has come” since White House chief of staff Ron Klain said months earlier that the administration was looking to produce a memo on Biden’s legal authority on the issue in a matter of weeks.
“He asked his secretary of Education, who’s just been on the job a few weeks, once he got on the job to have his department prepare a memo on the president’s legal authority, and hopefully we’ll see that in the next few weeks,” Klain said in an interview at the time. “And then he’ll look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that, and he’ll make a decision.”
In their letter, the lawmakers note the clock has been ticking “with over six months having passed since that interview” and only four months until a moratorium on student debt payments instated during the pandemic is expected to expire.
“The time has come to release the memo and deliver on your promise to cancel student debt,” the lawmakers wrote.
Since coming into office, Biden’s administration has canceled billions in student debt, but only in certain cases. For instance, $1.1 billion in debt was canceled recently for borrowers who attended the now-defunct ITT under the current “borrower defense to repayment” program after officials said the institution misled students about grant aid.
During his campaign, Biden said he would eliminate student debt for borrowers who come from a family making less than $125,000 and went to a public university.
“You get all these degrees and you get all this debt, and you get in a position where you can’t get a job because no one is hiring, or they’re hiring at very low wages … I’m going to eliminate your student debt if you come from a family [making less] than $125,000 and went to a public university,” he said in October 2020.
Biden has also previously said he was “prepared to write off $10,000” in student loan debt, though many in his party have called on him to cancel up to $50,000.
But there are disagreements within his party on whether he has the power to forgive federal student loans.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in July that Biden doesn’t have the legal authority to unilaterally cancel federal student loans.
“He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power,” Pelosi has said. “That would best be an act of Congress.”
But a number of progressives have pushed back on that notion, insisting the power to do so also falls squarely within Biden’s authority.
“This authority is already being put to use, as it is currently being used to cancel the interest owed on all federally-held student loans. Now it is time for you to honor your campaign pledge and use this authority to cancel all student debt,” lawmakers wrote in their letter to Biden on Friday.
“With a single signature, you can improve the economy, create new jobs, transform the lives of 45 million Americans, narrow the racial wealth gap, and maintain the trust of voters,” they wrote.
“Even during times of economic normalcy, student debt is a policy failure,” they added. “Turning student debt payments back on in the middle of a pandemic is an act of policy failure. Cancelling student debt is both the morally right and economically sound thing to do.”
Omar was joined by more than a dozen Democratic colleagues in signing the letter.
They include Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Danny K. Davis (Ill.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (Ill.), Jimmy Gomez (Calif.), Al Green (Texas), Jahana Hayes (Conn.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.),