GOP Would Undermine 40 Million Student Debtors to Gain Midterm Leverage

Republican attorneys from six GOP-led states recently filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s popular plan for canceling student debt, but they face a steep legal challenge in convincing a federal court in Missouri to block the plan from taking effect before the midterms.

If successful, the lawsuit could block the Biden administration’s plan to provide up to $20,000 of student debt relief to federal Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for others making less than $125,000 a year during the pandemic. However, in order to win a preliminary injunction to block the program from taking effect while facing legal challenges, the attorneys general must provide evidence that forgiving student debt will cause “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs — in this case, the state governments of South Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.

That’s a tall legal order given that canceling student debt would be a financial boon — and a source of stress relief — for the up to 40 million people the Biden administration estimates to be eligible for debt cancelation. Nearly 20 million of those could see their entire balance forgiven after years of living with college student debt. The idea of cancelling student debt is very popular with younger voters. Biden’s approval ratings rose after he announced the plan.

Ayesha Whyte, an ex-assistant attorney general for Washington, D.C., stated that while the lawsuit may not be popular with students with student debt, there are likely political reasons to try to block or delay the program prior the midterms.

“The strategy by these six Republican Attorney Generals is to oppose Biden and possibly garner some political favor with their governors or a certain part of their constituents, but these suits can delay debt relief for those that really need it and to ignore that … it’s [thoughtless],” Whyte told TruthoutInterview.

The popularity of the student debt relief plan is evident in polling. 46 percent said they are more likely thanks to it to vote.

Biden’s administration is now facing multiple legal challenges regarding the student loan cancellation program. Activist attorneys, right-wing legal organizations, and private citizens have filed at least four lawsuits to stop the program over the past week. More are likely. accordingTo Higher Education

Similar legal arguments are made in the lawsuits, which read like a list of GOP talking points. The conservatives behind the lawsuits claim Biden’s debt cancelation program, announced in August and set to take effect this month, is illegal without additional legislation from Congress to authorize the executive branch to take action. Democrats say the lawsuits just go to show that the GOP puts profits over working people, while activists call it a “sham.”

Biden’s administration claims the authority to cancel student loans under a 2003 law that allows the secretary of education to protect student borrower in an emergency. In this case, the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans point out that Biden has said that the pandemic is “over,” suggesting we are no longer in an emergency, but it’s unclear if a judge would agree to this alleged discrepancy considering the pandemic’s lingering economic impacts.

Echoing the GOP’s attack lines ahead of the midterms, the state attorneys general also claim that canceling student debt would contribute to inflation, although experts sayAny economic impact would not be significant. (As Truthout’s Sharon Zhang reported that Republicans have also cited other reasons for opposing student loan cancellation, such a continuing financial leverage used to coerce people with low incomes into joining the military.

The lawsuits also argue that this plan is unfair to private individuals, who worked to repay their student debt. But Whyte stated few people have come forward to explain how they would feel affected by the cancellation.

“There are certain people that murmur under their breaths, ‘I paid so you should have to pay as well,’ and, ‘Hey, we don’t want to add to the national debt,’ but those are complaints, they are not legal actions,” Whyte said.

In order to block the plan with a preliminary injunction, the Republican attorneys general must show “irreparable harm” to the plaintiff states, because the lawsuit was brought on behalf of the states, not individual citizens. In the complaint, they argue student debt cancelation could interfere with states’ higher education programs and hurt states financially, but even if states must adjust their budgets, Whyte said these challenges do not rise to the level of “irreparable harm.”

These legal challenges are part of a wider GOP strategy to delay the debt forgiveness until after the November elections.

“Everyone wants to feel like they are doing something, so what you do is test the water,” Whyte said, describing the GOP litigation strategy. “Will this or that lawsuit move forward? Each legal challenge is part of a potential delay. Can we delay this until the midterms, or even delay this until after another election in 2024?”