171 Republican lawmakers join effort to stop student loan forgiveness program
The representatives and senators insist the "bailout" is executive overreach.
One hundred and twenty-eight House Republicans and nearly all Republican senators on Friday filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court opposing the Biden administration's federal student debt cancellation plan, which has been halted as tens of millions of Americans await the justices' ruling on its legality.
While White House officials have been adamant that the president is within his authority to wipe out hundreds of billions in government-backed loans to provide "breathing room to tens of millions of working families," Republicans challenging it take the opposite view.
The forgiveness plan that could relieve up to $20,000 for eligible loan recipients is an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers and a violation of the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act), according to the House GOP brief.
"The Biden administration's student loan bailout is a political gambit engineered by special interest groups; abusing the HEROES Act for such a ploy is shameful," House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said in a statement.
The House GOP brief included 25 members on Foxx's committee and roughly 100 other lawmakers. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not sign it, though Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan did.
Separately, 43 Republican senators signed their own brief in support of the challenge to the loan forgiveness program. Led by Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, they also call the president's plan unlawful and claim it exceeds his office.
The White House has pushed back.
"While opponents of our plan are siding with special interests and trying every which way to keep millions of middle class Americans in debt, the President and his Administration are fighting to lawfully give middle-class families some breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and prepare to resume loan payments in January," spokesman Abdullah Hasan said in October.
However, the House Republicans say they believe Biden is exploiting the language of the HEROES Act, which the administration argues vests the education secretary with expansive authority to alleviate financial hardship for federal student loan recipients as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Indeed, the entire purpose of the HEROES Act is to authorize the Secretary to grant student-loan-related relief to at-risk borrowers because of a national emergency -- precisely what the Secretary did here," Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a Supreme Court filing defending the proposed debt cancellation.
After legal challenges last year saw the forgiveness program halted by lower courts, the Supreme Court announced in December that it will hear oral arguments on the issue at the end of February.
A decision on the program is then expected by June.
The moratorium on loan repayments, which was first put in place under President Donald Trump earlier in the pandemic, is now set to expire 60 days after the decision or 60 days after June 30 -- whichever date comes first.
A vocal opponent of Biden's plan, Foxx also accused the administration of "bypassing Congress" to implement loan forgiveness.
"Congress is the only body with the authority to enact sweeping and fundamental changes of this nature, and it is ludicrous for President Biden to assume he can simply bypass the will of the American people," she said in her statement.
Foxx told ABC News in an interview last month that she believes it is an "injustice" for taxpayers to fund the administration's "scheme." The plan would cost $400 billion, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and its nearly half-a-trillion-dollar price tag worries Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.
Despite the White House saying the cancellation would give needed economic relief, Duncan said it would be sending the U.S. further into a "debt spiral."
"The Court should invalidate the Secretary of Education's sweeping student loan forgiveness program since it trespasses on Congressional authority and violates the separation of powers," he said.
The U.S. Education Department has said the president's decision to cancel up to $10,000 for some loan recipients -- those who made less than $125,000 on their 2020 or 2021 taxes or $250,000 filing jointly -- or $20,000 for low-income recipients who received Pell grants could impact roughly 43 million Americans who owe $1.6 trillion in student loans.
That was particularly important in light of how COVID-19 upended the economy, according to the White House.
"This is why we took this action -- to make sure that tens of millions of Americans are able to deal with a time that was very difficult, especially in the last couple of years," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told ABC News' Karen Travers last week. "That's been the important priority of the president: to make sure folks … who felt the pinch if you will, who felt the hurt the most these past couple of years due to what COVID did to the economy, got a little extra help."
After the cancellation program launched last year, 26 million people signed up online before it was halted by the courts.
Of that group, 16 million were approved before the department's website stopped accepting applications to let the legal process play out. However, no loan forgiveness has been discharged.
Last month, over a dozen advocacy groups like the NAACP filed briefs in support of the president's plan.
"Student loan borrowers from all walks of life suffered profound financial harms during the pandemic and their continued recovery and successful repayment hinges on the Biden Administration's student debt relief plan," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in response to the coalition of groups joining in support of the plan. "We will continue to defend our legal authority to provide the debt relief working and middle-class families clearly need and deserve."
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