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Biden Removes Student Loan Forgiveness From Budget Proposal

Biden previously supported canceling up to $10,000 of student debt but has postponed action on the proposal for months.

President Joe Biden departs after holding a press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2021.

The White House has reportedly removed several key provisions from the administration’s upcoming budget plan, one of which was a student debt forgiveness proposal that progressives say is already several months overdue.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that the White House has also removed several proposals that President Joe Biden had promised to address on the campaign trail, like reducing the cost of prescription drugs and raising the estate tax.

Progressives have been especially frustrated with Biden, however, for having discussed but not followed through on the prospect of forgiving student loans for months. The left began advocating for Biden to cancel student debt weeks before his presidency started — but, despite making some moves indicating he might do so, Biden is now stepping back previous pledges on the matter.

During his presidential campaign, Biden supported canceling up to $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower. After taking office, Biden made a couple of moves earlier in the year signalling that he may go even bigger, with his chief of staff hinting in April that forgiveness of up to $50,000 could be on the table.

Biden’s recent selection of Richard Cordray, an ally of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), to head the federal student loan program in the Department of Education also seemed to signal that Biden might be listening to progressives on the subject.

For months, the Biden administration has said that it is exploring the legality of canceling student debt via executive order — a matter of great exasperation for advocates of debt cancellation who have repeatedly pointed out that it’s something the president could do with the stroke of a pen.

But the fact that Biden has postponed action on the proposal for so long and has now removed it from the upcoming budget proposal implies that Biden may be skeptical of the proposal altogether.

“[Biden]’s suspicious of the generous college debt forgiveness plans that have sprung up on the left,” read a recent New York Times article and interview with the president. Democrats, in efforts led largely by Warren, have proposed canceling $50,000 of student debt per borrower. Advocates like the Debt Collective have said that Biden could cancel all student debt for all borrowers.

“The idea that you go to Penn and you’re paying a total of 70,000 bucks a year and the public should pay for that? I don’t agree,” Biden told the New York Times. As advocates have pointed out, this line of reasoning is flawed. Many students who go to prestigious schools like Harvard and Yale don’t graduate with debt — and many of the ones who do are people of color, who disproportionately carry more student loan debt than their white counterparts.

For some Democratic and progressive lawmakers, student loan forgiveness is about equity and fueling a healthy economy during the pandemic and beyond. “Student debt is holding back New Yorkers and millions of Americans from buying homes, saving for retirement, and more,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) last week. “[President Biden] can #CancelStudentDebt through executive action.”

Now, after months of reserved praise from the left for some of his actions as president, Biden appears to be exposing more of his centrist/moderate roots. On the same day that the Post reported on the removal of key budget proposals, the administration announced that it was slashing the size of the White House’s infrastructure proposal from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion in order to appease Republicans — the same Republicans who have stated that their only goal is obstruction.

Meanwhile, the administration had a host of progressive and Democratic proposals to incorporate into the infrastructure bill that would have made it bolder and that the lawmakers said would meet the moment more sufficiently. Last month, for instance, progressives introduced a $10 trillion green infrastructure and climate justice bill called the THRIVE Act that goes further than Biden’s plan with investing in climate resilience and jobs creation.

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