Essential Politics: Republicans are trying to block Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan


Like much of the nation, I was stunned when President Biden canceled a limited amount of federal student debt.

Since Biden took office, progressives had implored him to do something to ease the burden of the soaring cost of college. For more than a year, he resisted calls to cancel federal student loans, and cast doubt on his authority to do so.

But in August, Biden reversed course, announcing that the government would cancel $10,000 in student debt for people earning less than $125,000 annually. (Pell Grant recipients are eligible for up to $20,000 in debt cancellation.) The announcement came over two years after the federal government, under then-President Trump, paused student loan payments due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some progressives wanted Biden to do more to help Black borrowers, who are disproportionately more burdened by student debt than their white counterparts. But the most significant opposition to his move came from Republicans, who warned that it would increase inflation and add to the national debt. Advocacy groups and a handful of GOP state attorneys general have already sued to block Biden from executing the plan. Will their legal strategy work? If they win, how could their victory affect the power of future presidents?

Hello friends, I’m Erin B. Logan. I cover national politics and the Biden-Harris administration for The Times. This week, we are going to discuss college debt, the law and Republicans’ odds of thwarting the president’s student loan forgiveness plan.

The crisis

Around 40 million Americans owe $1.6 trillion in federal student loans. The high cost of college, paired with long-stagnant wages, leaves student borrowers with steep loans, inhibiting their ability to save for retirement and buy a home and effectively preventing many of them from accessing the so-called American dream.


Biden’s plan would not only lower the student-debt burden, but clear it entirely for many. But its implementation is far from certain. Last week, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked Biden from implementing his plan. (The Department of Education is still processing loan forgiveness applications amid the legal battle.) Six Republican state officials had asked the court to act, arguing that Biden needs an explicit act of Congress to empower him to cancel loans.

The issue at hand is whether the states contesting the program — Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina — have a legal standing to challenge the policy.

Ted Frank, director of litigation at the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit public interest law firm, said he thinks Biden’s plan is “pretty clearly illegal as an abstract matter.”

Frank believes that the Biden administration guessed the courts would probably strike down the plan, but decided to move forward anyway. “For some reason, they’ve decided to be super aggressive,” he said. “I think to just motivate voters and then when the court strikes down and blame the courts.”

Daniel B. Rodriguez, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, thinks that at least one of the cases challenging Biden’s student loan plan could reach the Supreme Court. But before they get to the legal question, courts have to decide if the states have the legal right to challenge the policy. That hinges on whether the states can show they were harmed by the administration’s decision to cancel student debt.

Lingering problems

Natalia Abrams, president of the Student Debt Crisis Center, said that though Biden’s move is a big step in the right direction, the student borrower system still has problems. The Biden administration has made substantial strides in making income-driven repayment plans and the public service loan forgiveness program more accessible, she said.


But the ever-rising cost of higher education, rather than the loans people take out to pay for it, is the actual root of the problem, Abrams argued.

“We absolutely have to keep fighting for free college and free community college to once and for all end the student debt crisis,” said Abrams, who also founded a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. “Change never happens as quickly as those who are suffering in a situation when it happens.”

She added: “This gives us a lot of hope that they’re finally listening to the plight of borrowers.”

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The latest from the campaign trail

—Democrats have held both chambers of Congress and the presidency for the last two years, but they may not have such consolidated power for much longer, the Associated Press reported. Republicans are favored to win the House in the Nov. 8 midterm election, bolstered by frustration over the economy and advantages in the redistricting process that takes place every 10 years. But Democrats are working to hold their ground, campaigning on maintaining access to abortion and other issues. The outlook is murkier in the Senate, where Republicans are bidding to take back control. Several races in key battleground states are tight, leading Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to say the chances of his party winning a majority are just 50-50.

—Republican Rep. David Valadao and Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas are battling to represent California’s heavily agricultural 22nd Congressional District, which includes portions of Kern, Kings and Tulare counties, in what is considered one of the nation’s most competitive races, Times writer Hannah Fry reported. The race is one of 10 key California contests in the Nov. 8 midterm election that could determine the balance of power in the House of Representatives.

—Dissatisfaction with Los Angeles City Hall has been simmering for years, with residents growing exasperated over the protracted homelessness crisis, anxious over crime and exhausted by a string of corruption indictments targeting various city leaders, Times writers Julia Wick and David Zahniser reported. But publication of an incendiary leaked audio recording less than a month before election day provided yet another damning argument against the city’s political establishment — and perhaps the most explosive. Angelenos who rarely thought about municipal government turned their eyes toward City Hall in disgust. Residents who were already frustrated are now breathing fire.

—Voters in the cities of Duarte and Inglewood will decide next month whether to boost the minimum wage to $25 an hour for a range of workers at privately owned hospitals and dialysis clinics, Times writer Emily Alpert Reyes reported. The wage measures have been championed by the healthcare workers union SEIU-UHW, which has been pushing for a $25 minimum at health facilities in many cities in Los Angeles County. SEIU-UHW leaders have argued that the wage hikes are crucial to retain workers who have felt devalued during the pandemic. Union officials hope that local measures could help pave the way for a statewide minimum wage for workers in such facilities.

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The view from Washington

—Justice Clarence Thomas issued an order Monday that temporarily shields Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) from testifying about his phone calls to Georgia election officials after Trump’s narrow loss there in November 2020, Times writer David G. Savage reported. Thomas oversees appeals coming from the 11th Circuit Court, based in Atlanta. Late last week, Thomas asked the Fulton County prosecutor to file a response by this Thursday so the full Supreme Court could weigh in on the issue. Monday’s order suggests Thomas is seriously considering Graham’s plea. Thomas’ wife, Ginni, is a conservative activist who openly questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election. Graham is fighting off a subpoena seeking his testimony before a grand jury that is investigating whether Trump or his allies may have committed crimes by pressuring election officials to “find” enough votes that would change the outcome.

—For months, Western diplomats and foreign policy experts have worried that Europe’s support for Ukraine might falter as winter arrives and fuel shortages leave people freezing in their homes, Times writers Eli Stokols and Tracy Wilkinson reported. But as Republicans’ polling numbers improve ahead of next month’s midterm elections, even the United States’ continued assistance for the embattled Ukrainians is suddenly in doubt. With less than two weeks until election day, Republicans have retaken a national lead on the generic ballot. And last week, the House Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, suggested that he may block further defense and humanitarian aid to Ukraine if he is installed as speaker of the House next year. “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession, and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News on Tuesday, while adding that “Ukraine is important.”

—This fiscal year’s budget deficit shrank in half from last year, but the red ink soared on a monthly basis in September largely because of Biden’s plans to forgive student debt, as three decades’ worth of costs were compressed into a single month, the Associated Press reported. The budget figures released Friday by the Treasury Department reveal dueling visions about what it means to be financially responsible: Biden can rightly claim that the budget deficit for fiscal 2022 plunged $1.4 trillion from the prior year; critics can use the same report to say that forgiving education loans pushed up the federal debt by roughly $400 billion as the government booked the full expense.

The view from California

—Embattled former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu has refused to publicly disclose emails and text messages from personal accounts he used to conduct city business, calling into question how thoroughly a city-commissioned investigation can probe a corruption scandal tied to the aborted sale of Angel Stadium and a self-described “cabal” that allegedly steered city politics, Times writers Nathan Fenno, Gabriel San Román and Adam Elmahrek reported. In emails obtained by The Times, Sidhu’s criminal defense attorney claimed the former mayor’s past communications about city business on private devices were no longer public because he has resigned and invoked his client’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. Public records experts say the refusal flouts California law, leaves a critical gap in public understanding of behind-the-scenes actions that upended the political establishment of Orange County’s most populous city, and could encourage other government officials to use private accounts to conduct official business and avoid public scrutiny.

—Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian had harsh words Monday for his colleague Kevin de León, telling the embattled council member in a letter that his continued presence on the legislative body was “causing actual ongoing harm” to the practical operation of the council, Times writer Julia Wick reported. Krekorian said he would not grant De León’s request to be temporarily excused from council meetings. De León’s office did not respond when asked Monday afternoon about Krekorian’s letter. The letter comes five days after De León vowed not to resign in the wake of an incendiary leaked audio recording in which city leaders made racist and derogatory comments about a number of groups.

—Debit cards with inflation relief payments to help ease the pain of increased prices will be mailed out to millions of Californians starting Monday and should arrive in mailboxes over the next few weeks, Times writer Nathan Solis reported. The California “Middle Class Tax Refund” program aims to soften the blow of rising inflation through a one-time payment, ranging from $400 to $1,050 for couples who filed jointly on their 2020 state income tax return and $200 to $700 for those who filed independently. Eligible residents will need to have filed their 2020 tax return by Oct. 15, 2021, meet the state’s adjusted gross income limits and not have been claimed as a dependent in 2020. Individuals will also have to have lived in California for six months or more in 2020 and be a California resident when the payment is issued.

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