President Joe Biden may soon fulfill a long-vaunted campaign promise to cancel some amount of student debt without action from Congress, which has become a major touchstone issue for progressives and Democratic lawmakers during Biden’s time in office.
During a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on Tuesday, Biden said that he’s exploring options to cancel a substantial amount of student debt. He didn’t specify how much he’s looking to cancel, according to meeting participants — but his recent openness to the idea marks a decidedly different tone from his administration’s previous statements and relative silence on the issue.
“The president never mentioned an amount nor did the president say that he was going to wipe out all student debt,” Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California), who was present at the meeting, told CBS. “He did a dialogue with us about the differential between young people who went to public schools or private schools and we CHC members said he should focus on both. And he said, ‘Okay, good to know.’”
When Cardenas told the president that the caucus supported canceling at least $10,000 of student debt through executive action, Cardenas said that Biden “smiled and said, ‘You’re going to like what I do on that, I’m looking to do something on that and I think you’re going to like what I do.’”
Caucus members emphasized to the president that Latinx students are more likely to be impacted by student debt than their white counterparts. Black students are also disproportionately affected by student loan debt, with Black and Latinx students holding far more debt on average than white borrowers.
Though Biden promised to cancel up to $10,000 of student debt per borrower on the campaign trail, meeting attendees said that he appears to be prepared to forgive more, as debt activists and lawmakers have urged him to do.
“As far as the president going out and talking about student loan cancellation with different groups, I do think that’s a very good sign,” Cody Hounanian, Student Debt Crisis Center executive director, told CBS. “I think the president is starting to recognize that student debt cancellation is very popular.”
Debt cancellation would be a major win for advocates and lawmakers who have been pushing Biden to follow up on his pledge since he took office. Experts say that Biden does have the legal authority to cancel student debt via executive order, but his administration has delayed action on the matter and even went so far as to hide a memo prepared by the Education Department on the legality of the issue.
Activists say that the reason that Biden may be having a change of heart is because of the pressure he’s faced from the public and members of his own party. “Let’s be very clear: Biden did not suddenly have a change of heart on student debtors and our financial burdens. He was forced to have a change in political will because of our organizing and political pressure,” wrote the Debt Collective in response to the news about the meeting. “Debtors have power — keep pushing.”
Lawmakers celebrated the news and urged Biden to take bold action on the issue. Biden “has the power to transform the lives of millions of Americans by canceling student debt,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). “The payment pause has been a lifeline — and it’s time to deliver permanent relief. Cancel student debt, Mr. President.”
Polling indicates that student debt forgiveness is a popular issue, especially among young voters — a group from which Biden is currently losing support. A poll of voters aged 18 to 29 that was released on Monday from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School found that a whopping 85 percent of young Americans favor some form of government action on student debt, with a plurality of 38 percent saying that they want the government to cancel student debt for everyone.