President Biden’s plan to cancel billions in federal student loan debt is like a piñata: You can attack it from any angle and find some reward. In short, people making less than $125,000 will get $10,000 of their debt forgiven, no strings attached. Recipients of needs-based Pell grants will see up to $20,000 erased.
It might be a stretch to say this order is literally lawless, but it’s close. The White House claims the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act gives Biden unchecked authority to cancel student debt (a power even Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said he doesn’t have). The HEROES Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, was meant to help military personnel and others with student debt relief in wartime or national emergencies. Congress surely didn’t intend to give the president unilateral power to erase all civilian student loans as he sees fit.
A president who relentlessly boasts that, thanks to his withdrawal from Afghanistan, America is “not at war” is invoking wartime powers for his personal—and partisan—domestic policy priorities. Many who fretted over authoritarianism’s dark shadow when Donald Trump stretched his powers for political expediency are remarkably untroubled by this imperial diktat.
Canceling student debt, long an obsession of progressives, is seriously regressive. According to the nonpartisan Penn Wharton Budget Model, more than 6 in 10 beneficiaries of the $10,000 blanket forgiveness are in the top 60 percent of the income distribution.