Washington — President Biden said Thursday that he is “taking a hard look” at forgiving some federal student loan debt, but the amount he is considering is less than $50,000 per borrower, less than some top Democrats have been searching since he took office.
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” Biden said in response to a question at the White House. “I am not considering a $50,000 reduction in debt. But I am in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there will be additional debt forgiveness.”
The president said he would have an answer on additional debt relief in the “coming weeks.”
Mr. Biden’s comments came days after he gave one of his strongest signals yet that he is looking to pay off student loan debt during a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday.
Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California, who attended the meeting, said the president never mentioned a specific amount he wanted to pay off, but said he was open to forgiving borrowers regardless of whether they attended public or private institutions. When the legislator reiterated that the caucus supports the cancellation of $10,000 in student loan debt, the president said: “They are going to like what I do,” according to Cárdenas.
In response to the president’s meeting on Monday, some Republican lawmakers criticized Biden for considering forgiving student loan debt. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted that “desperate polls call for desperate measures,” and mockingly suggested that Biden was trying to “bribe” voters.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Biden said he would pay off $10,000 in student loan debt and called for Congress to act. He has extended the relationship with the pandemic federal student loan repayment pause multiple times, most recently through August 31. The White House has previously expressed concern that the widespread cancellation of federal student debt could face legal challenges if done through executive action, and the president last year asked his team to assess its legal options.
The pressure on Biden to act has been mounting as the midterm elections approach. Some Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have reiterated their calls for the president to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt, an amount that appears to be off the table for now.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a decision on student loan debt cancellation would be made between now and Aug. 31, when loan payments will resume. Some Republican lawmakers and organizations oppose extend the pandemic-era pause, saving some 41 million borrowers an estimated $5 billion per month in student loan interest payments. The hiatus was previously scheduled to expire in early May.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education has made some changes to existing loan forgiveness programs. Since taking office, the Biden administration has forgiven more than $17 billion in student loan debt, including for borrowers who were scammed by their schools, those with permanent disabilities, and those on income-based repayment plans or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.