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Ocasio-Cortez Says Canceling Student Debt Should Be Top Priority for Biden

“One of the single most impactful things President Biden can do is pursue student-loan cancellation,” she said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

In a new interview, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said that President Joe Biden’s top priority should be to use his executive powers to cancel student debt as the rest of his agenda is stalled in the Senate.

Speaking with The New Yorker, Ocasio-Cortez said that canceling student debt would be a “keystone action” for the administration, both politically and economically, and that Biden should be bolder in exercising his executive authority.

When asked what Biden should do first in response to the Senate gridlock brought on by conservative Democrats, she said, “One of the single most impactful things President Biden can do is pursue student loan cancellation. It’s entirely within his power.”

Ocasio-Cortez emphasized that student debt cancellation would help huge swaths of the country, and warned that Biden could risk losing key voters if he refuses to take action.

“This really isn’t a conversation about providing relief to a small, niche group of people,” she said. “And I can’t underscore how much the hesitancy of the Biden Administration to pursue student loan cancellation has demoralized a very critical voting block that the President, the House, and the Senate need in order to have any chance at preserving any of our majority.”

Later in the interview, Ocasio-Cortez warned that current political infighting and obstruction could cost the country its democracy within the next decade. “My concern is that we’re getting into analysis paralysis, and we don’t have much time. We should really not take this present political moment for granted, and do everything that we can,” she said.

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to cancel up to $10,000 of student debt per borrower. But his administration has been dragging its feet on the issue even though legal experts say that Biden has the authority to relieve student loans. This has greatly frustrated Democratic lawmakers and debt activists, who have speculated that Biden simply doesn’t want to cancel student debt, despite the vast popularity of the idea among his party.

Prominent members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), have been campaigning for student loan cancellation under Biden for over a year now. Rallying with activists, Schumer said last week that he was confident the push will eventually be successful.

Proposals to cancel student debt are popular among the electorate. Recent polling from Data for Progress found that 63 percent of likely voters across all parties support canceling all or some student debt for borrowers. Democrats are especially in favor of the idea, with a whopping 88 percent of respondents saying that they favor canceling debt.

Further, 38 percent of Democratic voters said that the federal government should eliminate all student debt for every borrower, a measure that goes further than the $10,000 or even $50,000 in debt cancellation that some Democrats have proposed. Cancellation of student debt across the board has been championed by debt activists and more radical lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

With student loan payments resuming in May, student debt activists are planning a day of action in April to urge Biden to “pick up the pen” and cancel student debt.

“All President Biden has to do to cancel student debt is sign an executive order,” said Debt Collective co-founder Astra Taylor in a statement. “He made a promise on the campaign trail and debtors are going to make sure he keeps it. Turning student debt payments on in the middle of a public health emergency and an election year would be both cruel and politically suicidal and debtors won’t stand for it.”

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