Rep. Ro Khanna Implores Biden to Act on Student Loan Debt

Rep. Ro Khanna warned Tuesday that the Biden administration’s plan to restart federal student loan payments in February could hurt Democrats’ chances in the upcoming midterm elections by placing an additional financial burden on millions of people, right in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

In recent weeks — amid the rapidly spreading Omicron variant and a still-unsteady economic recovery — the Biden administration has come under growing pressure To extend the student loan repayment pause and cancel at minimum a portion of the roughly $1.7 billion in federal student loan debt that saddles tens to millions of people across the U.S.

However, the administration has so far refused to make any commitments.

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, spoke to reporters last week. said that “a smooth transition back into repayment is a high priority for the administration,” an indication that the Department of Education has no intention of extending the freeze a third time.

Asked about President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower, Psaki said during a Monday briefing that “if Congress sends him a bill, he’s happy to sign it.”

Legal experts and campaigners say Biden has the authority to cancel federal student loan debt via executive action, but the president has declined to take that route despite the proposal’s popularity.

A survey Data for Progress released Tuesday’s results showing that 70% of U.S. voters support a pause on federal student loans payments during the ongoing pandemic.

Restarting federal student loan payments can cause significant harm to borrowers as well as the economy. The Roosevelt Institute calculated in a recent analysis Federal student loan borrowers were paying on average $393 per month, just before the pause was implemented in March 2020, during the early stages of the coronavirus epidemic.

The Roosevelt Institute warned that $85 billion could be taken from the U.S. economy if the Education Department lifts its payment freeze.

Teen Vogue’s Lexi McMenamin argued in an op-ed Tuesday that Biden’s intention to end the payment pause in fewer than 50 days is “a betrayal to his voters.”

“There’s no excuse for the choice to resume payments, especially during an election year when Democrats still haven’t nailed down their strategy,” McMenamin wrote.

More than 200 advocacy organizations — including the Student Borrower Protection Center and the ACLU — similarly argued in a December 8 letter to Biden that “payments should not resume until your administration has fully delivered on the promises you made to student loan borrowers to fix the broken student loan system and cancel federal student debt.”

“You ran for president on the promise that you would reform the student loan system to ensure that student loan payments would be affordable for all,” the groups wrote. “It is critical that your administration continue to deliver on your promises made to student loan borrowers and their families before ending the pause in payments and collections.”