Psaki: Biden executive action on canceling some student debt ‘still on the table’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said President Biden’s use of executive action to cancel some federal student loan debt is “still on the table” and that a “decision” could be made in the coming months.
Psaki made the comments during an appearance on “Pod Save America” after being pressed about past comments by White House chief of staff Ron Klain.
“Yes, still on the table, still on the table,” Psaki could be heard saying to apparent cheers from the audience attending the live podcast, which was released by the platform on friday. She then pointed to the Aug. 31 deadline for when the freeze on student loan debt payments and accrual interest is set to lapse, saying: “We have to then decide whether it’s extended.”
“Nobody’s had to pay a dollar, a cent, anything in student loans since Joe Biden has been president,” Psaki said. “And if that can help people ease the burden of costs in other parts of their lives, that’s an important thing to consider. That’s a big part of the consideration.”
Between now and the end of August, Psaki said the moratorium is “either going to be extended or we’re going to make a decision, as Ron referenced, about canceling student debt.”
The current pause on federal student loan payments was first implemented under the Trump administration at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. It has since been extended six times.
Biden last extended the pause earlier this month amid mounting pressure from advocates, borrowers and members of his own party to provide further relief.
Biden during his campaign called for federal student loan debt cancellation, and supported forgiveness of at least $10,000 per borrower. However, some top Democrats have pushed for him to go beyond that, canceling up to $50,000 per borrower or wiping out federal student loan debt entirely.
But unifying on a path forward has been tricky for Democrats.
The White House called on Congress to send legislation canceling debt to Biden’s desk, but Democrats are not optimistic about their chances of doing so in the 50-50 Senate given staunch GOP opposition. Sixty votes would be needed to overcome procedural hurdles.
In addition, some moderate Democrats do not back canceling student loan debt, citing concerns about rising inflation.
Some progressives insist Biden should unilaterally cancel student debt through executive action. However, some lawmakers say Biden does not have such authority, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Psaki said in the interview that Biden’s preference “from the beginning” has been legislation because “bills are more permanent” than executive action, which she argued could be undone in the future by another president.
“The courts and, God forbid, there’s a Republican in the White House one day, I mean, they can overturn these things,” she said. “This is the thing with executive actions — you can go back and forth and overturn them, and obviously we want something in any of these cases where it’s more permanent.”
Roughly a year ago, the White House said it requested a memo from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to determine whether Biden had the power to cancel student loans across the board.
Last month, Klain touched on the matter in to video shared by “Pod Save America.”
“The question whether or not there’s some executive action student debt forgiveness when the payments resume is a decision we’re going to take before the payments resume,” Klain said.
“Right now, people aren’t having to pay on their loans, and so I think dealing with the executive branch question, what we should do about that, what his powers are, how much we should do on that, that’s something we’ re gonna deal with later on,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.), who has been advocating for $50,000 in student debt cancellation, signaled progress for his push in remarks to activists on Wednesday.
“I have talked personally to the president about this issue a whole bunch of times. I have told him that this is more important than just about anything else that he can do on his own,” he said.
“We’re making progress folks. We are making progress. The White House seems more open to it than ever before,” he added.