4 House Republicans oppose mass student-debt cancellation, saying it's unfair. They want a promise it won't happen.
- 4 House Republicans asked Education Sec. Cardona to oppose mass student-debt cancellation.
- They said the law "clearly" does not permit cancellation for every borrower.
- But experts and lawmakers have disagreed on what the law actually says.
Canceling $50,000 in
That's what Massachusetts Sen.
The problem is that lawmakers and experts disagree on what the law does allow.
Republican Reps. Ted Budd of North Carolina, Warren Davidson of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, and Barry Loudermilk of Georgia wrote a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday, requesting he commit to not cancelling student debt broadly by executive action. They wrote that Congress has provided "limited and explicit authority" to the Education Secretary to cancel student debt in certain circumstances but not the authority to do that for all student-loan balances.
"The law is clear: the Department does not have the legal authority to cancel student loan debt en masse," the letter said. "Any deviation from Congress's clear intention for student loan balances to be repaid, with limited and specific exceptions, would be of grave concern."
The lawmakers cited Warren's debt-cancellation proposal as "an affront to the millions of borrowers who responsibly repaid their loan balances," and they added that blanket loan forgiveness would be regressive, only benefitting the highest-earning individuals. Insider previously reported on a study that claimed the opposite - that mass cancellation would be progressive and benefit the lowest earners, displaying a split on not only the legality of cancellation, but its impact, as well.
The Education and Justice Departments are in the process of reviewing President Joe Biden's legal authority to cancel student debt broadly by executive action, and while there is no word yet on where those reviews stand, experts and lawmakers have spoken out on the legality of student-debt cancellation and results have been conflicting, suggesting the law is not as clear as the four Republicans stated.
For example, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi - Schumer's counterpart in the House - surprised her Democratic colleagues in August when she said Biden does not have the authority to cancel student debt. The Intercept reported that Pelosi's comments came after a memo circulated from Democratic megadonors Steven and Mary Swig - who gave maximum contributions to Pelosi - arguing that it would be illegal for Biden to cancel debt.
A best-selling author on the topic, Mark Kantrowitz, previously told Insider that if the departments are truly conducting these reviews, they will find Biden "does not have that authority" under the Higher Education Act to cancel student debt broadly.
Other experts disagree, including the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School. Harvard's Eileen Connor and Deanne Loonin, along with Toby Merrill, who serves as Deputy General Counsel in Biden's Education Department, wrote a letter to Warren last year detailing how broad student-debt cancellation would be "a lawful and permissible exercise of the Secretary's authority under existing law."
They cited the secretary's ability to modify loans under the Higher Education Act, including modifying a loan to zero.
Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, which protects borrowers' rights, previously told Insider that the findings from the reviews should be "crystal clear."
"Any kind of deliberate, straightforward reading of the Higher Education Act makes it very clear that the Education Secretary has broad discretion to cancel debt and help student loan borrowers," Frotman said.
While Biden's administration has not commented on what it plans to do with student debt broadly, it has carried out targeted student-debt cancellation as the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis continues to grow.
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