Biden administration defends student loan cancellation in Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to uphold its decision to write off hundreds of billions of dollars in student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans, arguing it was acting as part of its executive authority and did not need further authorization from Congress.
In a brief filed with judges, the Justice Department dismissed legal challenges brought by half a dozen Republican-led states and argued that the states had no basis to challenge the ruling in court. in the first place.
The administration’s response to the challenges came a month after the court agreed to hear the case and put the case on an expedited schedule. The judges plan to hear arguments in February and left in place an injunction issued by a lower court preventing the administration from proceeding with the program until the legal issues have been resolved.
The program would cancel up to $20,000 in debt for up to 40 million borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year. More than 16 million potential beneficiaries have already been approved for relief if the court allows the program to continue, and millions more have applied. The administration said nearly 90% of the benefits would go to borrowers who had already graduated and earned less than $75,000 a year.
President Biden’s decision to offer the pardon represented one of the most sweeping spending decisions ever made by a president without a specific vote from Congress. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated its cost at around $400 billion over 30 years, with the bulk of the effects on the economy over the next decade.
The states challenging the decision — Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina — argue the administration lacked the authority to authorize such a sweeping measure on its own and argue it would deprive the states of future tax revenue. .
“The administration is once again invoking the Covid-19 pandemic to assert its power far beyond anything Congress could have conceived of,” the states said in a brief filed with the Supreme Court in November, noting that judges had previously ruled against two other Covid-related measures. “Now,” they added, “as President Biden publicly declares an end to the pandemic, the Secretary and Department of Education are using Covid-19 to justify massive debt cancellation.”
Most borrowers have already been able to skip student loan repayments for nearly three years under a Covid-19 relief measure initiated under President Donald J. Trump in March 2020 and continued under Mr. Biden. Mr Biden’s administration extended the suspension of payments until September.
The Biden team’s legal brief filed Wednesday argued that the pandemic also provided the basis for the debt cancellation program, arguing that the administration had the power under the Heroes Act of 2003, which allows the Secretary of Education to grant aid in time of war or national emergency.
“The secretary’s actions fit comfortably within the plain text of the law,” the brief says, referring to Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona.
The brief also challenged the states’ right to continue the program. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which imposed the injunction temporarily suspending the pardon pending legal resolution, focused on the possibility of harm to the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, an entity in nonprofit that administers federal loans.
But the administration’s filing argued that the authority is separate from the state of Missouri and any harm is highly speculative. The brief also says two borrowers who sued in Texas, represented by a special interest group, lacked standing to challenge the program.
The student loan plan may have played a role in supporting Democrats in November’s midterm elections. While voters as a whole were split relatively evenly on the issue, with 50% supporting and 47% opposing, according to CNN exit polls, the program had much higher support among younger voters, who broke decisively for the Democrats.
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