WASHINGTON (The Hill) — White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday suggested President Biden could extend a pandemic freeze on student loan payments and interest accrual.
During a Tuesday briefing at the White House, Psaki told reporters Biden has not yet decided whether he will allow millions of Americans to forgo student loan payments at no additional cost beyond Jan. 31.
Biden in August extended an order initially issued by former President Trump in March 2020 to pause due payments and interest on federally held student loans through the end of next month. The administration said it would likely be the last extension of the order, and Psaki all but ruled out another extension in a press conference two weeks ago.
“We’re still assessing the impact of the omicron variant, but a smooth transition back into repayment is a high priority for the administration,” Psaki said on Dec. 10.
Even so, Biden has faced intense pressure from progressives not only to extend that pause, but also cancel a significant chunk of federally held student debt. Democratic lawmakers have warned Biden not to begin collecting debt payments as the economy braces for another potential hit from the pandemic amid an otherwise strong recovery.
“Restarting student loan debt payments would take more than $85 billion dollars out of our economy next year. We’re still in a pandemic and people are still struggling. @POTUS shouldn’t restart payments and should use his authority to #CancelStudentDebt,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading advocate for student loan forgiveness, in a Tuesday tweet.
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Roughly 44 million Americans owe the federal government a combined $1.6 trillion in student loans. Progressive lawmakers and activists have urged Biden to forgive up to $50,000 per borrower through executive action, insisting the president has the legal authority to do so without congressional approval.
Biden has asked administration officials to review his legal authority to forgive student debt through executive order and has said he would sign a bill passed to forgive up to $10,000 per borrower. Even so, Congress is highly unlikely to pass a debt forgiveness bill with almost all Republicans and notable contingent of Democrats — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — opposed to a debt wipeout.