Some Republicans are pouncing on a comment House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made about the president’s authority to cancel student loan debt last year.
“People think that the president of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That has to be an act of Congress. And I don’t even like to call it forgiveness because that implies a transgression. It’s not to be forgiven, just freeing people from those obligations,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said in response to a reporter’s question at her weekly press conference in July 2021.
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart retweeted the quote Friday, saying “I couldn’t agree more.”
“This student-loan bailout is an abuse of power that favors college grads at the expense of hard-working Americans,” he said.
Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation has condemned President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loans, with Sen. Mitt Romney going so far as to call it a “bribe” to win votes for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.
This past May, Romney and several GOP senators introduced legislation to prohibit the Biden administration from canceling student loan debt under “dubious legal authority.”
Last year, Romney and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., filed a bipartisan bill to reduce student loan debt and make college more affordable. The legislation would create a college matched-savings program that would help low-income students pay for tuition, books, fees and other education-related expenses.
Rep. Burgess Owens called the Biden plan a “slap in the face” to Americans who worked hard to pay off their loans.
“Rather than focus on responsible reforms to the federal student loan program, President Biden has proposed a temporary band-aid that will aggravate inflation and add billions to our country’s deficit,” he tweeted Thursday.
Every person who agreed to a student loan did so with the commitment to pay the money back. Transferring that debt to hardworking families and creating an offramp for responsibility is deceiving public policy with abysmal economic implications. We have to do better.— Rep. Burgess Owens (@RepBurgessOwens) August 25, 2022
The Biden administration is tying its authority to cancel student debt to the COVID-19 pandemic and to a 2003 law aimed at providing help to members of the military, according to The Associated Press, noting legal challenges are expected.
Skeptics of the administration’s ability act without new legislation had once included Biden himself and Pelosi.
Pelosi reversed course in comments Tuesday, saying that she “didn’t know what — what authority the president had to do this. And now clearly, it seems he has the authority to do this.”
As Biden announced the plan Wednesday, Pelosi called it a “strong step” in Democrats’ fight to expand access to higher education.
“By delivering historic targeted student debt relief to millions of borrowers, more working families will be able to meet their kitchen table needs as they recover from the pandemic,” she tweeted.
In a legal opinion released Wednesday, the Justice Department said that the HEROES Act of 2003 gives the administration “sweeping authority” to reduce or eliminate student debt during a national emergency, ”when significant actions with potentially far-reaching consequences are often required,” the AP reported.
The law was adopted with overwhelming bipartisan support when the U.S. was engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It gives the secretary of education authority to waive rules relating to student financial aid programs in times of war or national emergency.
Former President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in 2020 because of the coronavirus, and it remains in effect. But neither Trump nor Biden, until the president’s announcement on Wednesday, had tried to wipe out so much student debt at one time, according to the AP.