No, President Biden does not have the power to forgive student loan debt – Whittier Daily News
On April 6, President Joe Biden announced that he was extending the moratorium on federal student loan interest and principal payments until August. The moratorium was originally passed by Congress as part of its Covid relief package and signed by President Donald Trump, to expire in September 2020. This moratorium was extended by Congress until May 1, 2022 Now President Biden, by an order to his Secretary of Education, has granted an additional three months of abstention.
For Democratic leaders in Congress, that is not enough. Outright forgiveness of student debt is what Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Alex Padilla of California and Raphael Warnock of Georgia called for in a March 31 letter to President Biden. They were joined by three of the four members of the “Squad” in the House, plus Democratic whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.
Warren had called for all student debt to be forgiven when she was campaigning for president. Her most recent request is for a $50,000 pardon per college graduate, which she is urging the president to do with the stroke of a pen. President Biden has said he would support $10,000 in relief, but only if Congress approves it.
When Congress created the various student loan programs, it gave the U.S. Department of Education oversight authority over them, extending to issues such as how debts were to be secured by third-party banks. and how disputes could be settled. Congress did not authorize the department to simply cancel the debt. This is why President Biden has insisted that any real pardon must be passed by Congress. Article VI, Section 3, of the United States Constitution gives Congress the right to “dispose of…property belonging to the United States”. A debt is property, as understood by all American courts in 1787 and today. Only Congress can dispose of government property.
Seeking to avoid this inconvenient truth, Warren obtained an op-ed from Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center just before the 2020 election stating that Congress had, in fact, given the power to cancel all student debt to the Ministry of Education. This view flowed from the provisions of the law that dealt with the situation where a recipient of a student loan went bankrupt. The Harvard letter defended Warren’s claim that the new president could, from day one, wipe out all student debt. This suggestion may have influenced votes in the 2020 presidential election three weeks later.
Upon taking office, President Biden tasked his education department with advising on who was right. Despite pleas from Democratic leaders, he has refused to release his administration’s legal analysis, while continuing to insist that any debt forgiveness be done by Congress. President Biden may end up caving in to the far left of his party as the midterm elections approach; but, so far, he admirably defends the separation of powers of the Constitution that this decision is for Congress to make explicitly.
The magnitude of Warren and her colleagues’ constitutional claim is evidenced by the scale of the debt at issue: $1.6 trillion is owed to the United States in student loans she believes President Biden can cancel. It is unthinkable that Warren would have argued for such presidential power if President Trump had claimed it.
The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workplace analyzed detailed Census Bureau data from 2007 to 2009 to conclude that a college education pays an 84% premium on lifetime earnings in America, “In d’ other words, over a lifetime, a bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million on average.”
For the benefit of this privileged class, Senator Warren would relinquish property owned by all Americans, 62.5% of whom have never been to college.
Tom Campbell is Professor of Law and Professor of Economics at Chapman University. He is the author of Separation of Powers in Practice, a text on constitutional law, and has taught this subject at Chapman and Stanford. He was a member of the United States Congress for five terms. He left the Republican Party in 2016 and is in the process of forming a new political party in California, the Common Sense Party.