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Congressional Repeal of Biden’s Student Debt Forgiveness Sparks Potential Presidential Veto

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: June 1, 2023
Activists hold signs as they attend a Student Loan Forgiveness rally on Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th street near the White House on April 27, 2022 in Washington, DC. Student loan activists including college students held the rally to celebrate U.S. President Joe Biden's extension of the pause on student loans and also urge him to sign an executive order that would fully cancel all student debt. (Image: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In a move of profound significance, the United States Congress (which currently holds a Republican majority) voted to dismantle President Biden’s student loan relief program on June 1 — setting the stage for a potential clash with the executive branch.

As a cornerstone of Biden’s campaign and early presidency, the student debt cancellation plan was hailed by many as an ambitious effort to alleviate the financial burdens on millions of Americans. However, a resounding congressional decision has recently undermined this initiative, highlighting the contentious and complex debate surrounding student loan debt in the U.S.

The proposal, which outlined a strategy to eradicate $10,000 of student loan debt for individuals earning a maximum of $125,000 annually ($250,000 for married couples) was hit with resistance from the get-go. In addition, individuals who have been beneficiaries of federal Pell Grants would see an increased relief of $20,000, the proposal said. Analysts projected the implementation of this proposal could lead to expenditures reaching as high as $400 billion.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington D.C., as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California look on. (Image: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS)


Polarizing views

As both sides of the aisle grappled with the magnitude of the nation’s student debt crisis, many had hoped that Biden’s debt cancellation plan would serve as a much-needed solution for millions of Americans burdened with student debt. Yet, the plan was met with significant opposition. Critics argued that the debt cancellation would unfairly benefit the affluent who held large sums of student debt, while doing little to address the root causes of soaring higher-education costs.

“Unfortunately, the president is guaranteed to veto the measure, and there are not enough Democrats in the House and Senate to be willing to override his veto,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD).

Despite Thune’s expectations, Congress’s repeal of the initiative was not wholly unexpected. The move showcases the depth of discord within the halls of Capitol Hill over how best to address the ongoing student loan crisis. It also tees up a scenario in which the executive branch could flex its muscle and potentially lead to a presidential veto, experts say. 

“There are already more than 50 existing student loan repayment and forgiveness programs aimed at attracting individuals to vital service jobs, such as teachers, health care workers and public servants,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-VA), who voted to repeal the bill.

“This Biden proposal undermines these programs and forces hard-working taxpayers who already paid off their loans or did not go to college to shoulder the cost,” said Manchin, adding, “I voted to repeal the Biden Administration’s student loan cancellation proposal because we simply cannot afford to add another $400 billion to the national debt.” 

The Biden Administration quietly excluded 4 million existing student loan holders from its forgiveness scheme.
A staged photo opportunity in front of The White House after the Biden Administration announced it would forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for existing unpaid debtors only on Aug. 25, 2022. (Image: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We the 45m)

This recent congressional decision has undoubtedly amplified the national conversation about student debt. Lawmakers, policy experts, and the public are all eager to grapple with the question of how best to address this growing crisis and debt ceiling.

Stirring the waters

Despite the repeal, supporters of Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan are not backing down. They maintain that the cancellation of student debt would provide an immediate and substantial relief for millions of Americans — and could even act as a catalyst for broader economic growth.

More than 41 million Americans are currently saddled with the burden of student loans, owing a collective amount of over $1.7 trillion, according to data from the Federal Reserve.  

According to findings from the “Invest in You Student Loan Survey” conducted by research firm Momentive, a staggering 81 percent of people who struggle with student loan payments say they’ve had to “delay one or more key life milestones” because of their debt. ​​Conducted online from Jan. 10 to Jan. 13, Momentive surveyed a sample of 5,162 American adults to gain a deeper insight into the effects of student debt. 

Now, the spotlight shifts back to Biden as experts predict whether the president will use his executive power to veto the repeal, and force the relief program forward.