1 of 8 | President Joe Biden delivers remarks in response to the decision by the Supreme Court to block his administration's student loan forgiveness plan. While in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday, Biden accused Republicans of "snatching from the hands of million of Americans, thousands of dollars of student debt relief that was about to change their lives." Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
June 30 (UPI) -- After the Supreme Court on Friday blocked Joe Biden's student loan debt relief plan from taking effect, the president announced new ways to help some student borrowers as he criticized Republican "hypocrisy" on the topic.
"We need to find a new way, and we're moving as fast as we can," the president said in remarks from the White House Friday afternoon, during which he announced "a new path consistent with today's ruling to provide student debt relief to as many borrowers as possible as quickly as possible."
"We will ground this new approach in a different law than my original plan, the so-called Higher Education Act," Biden added.
Biden said the court's decision was a wrong one and the fight on student debt relief is not over after the 6-3 ruling, which found that the program was unlawful because it had not been approved by Congress.
"Last year I announced my student debt relief plan, a plan that was on the verge of providing more than 40 million Americans with real debt relief up to $10,000 from any borrowers and up to $20,000 from those who had gotten a Pell Grant," Biden said.
Biden accused Republicans of "snatching from the hands of million of Americans, thousands of dollars of student debt relief that was about to change their lives."
"This program was all set to begin, the website had been set up the applications had been simplified so it took less than 5 minutes to complete. Notices had been sent out to people they were eligible for, 16 million people, 16 million people had already been approved," Biden said.
"The money was literally about to go out the door and then Republican elected officials and special interests stepped in, they said 'no' 'no,'" Biden said.
"These Republican officials just couldn't bear the thought of providing relief to working class, middle class Americans. Republican state officials sued my administration attempting to block relief, including millions of their own constituents," Biden said.
He contrasted Republican attitudes towards the Paycheck Protection Program that was rolled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Think about this, we all supported the Paycheck Protection Program, remember PPP, you know, which was designed to help business owners who lost money because of the pandemic," Biden said. "It was a worthy program, but let's be clear, some of the same elected Republicans, members of congress, who strongly oppose giving relief to students, got hundreds of thousands of dollars themselves in relief, members of congress because of the businesses they were able to keep open, several members of congress got over a million dollars, all those loans are forgiven. You know how much that program cost? $760 billion! My program is too expensive?"
Biden said "the hypocrisy is stunning. You can't help a family making $75,000 a year but you can help a millionaire and you have your debt forgiven?"
As Biden spoke, the White House the reintroduction of Biden's forgiveness plan linked to the Higher Education Act, a measure long promoted by advocates, who say the HEA allows the education secretary to "compromise, waive or release" students loans.
The White House also announced that introduction of a 12-month "on-ramp" to repayment, running from October 1 to September 30, 2024. Under this plan, financially vulnerable borrowers who miss monthly payments aren't "considered delinquent, reported to credit bureaus, placed in default, or referred to debt collection agencies," according to administration officials.
"I will stop at nothing to find other ways to deliver relief to hard-working middle-class families," Biden said earlier in the day immediately following the court's decision. "My administration will continue to work to bring the promise of higher education to every American."
The Biden administration had argued that the 2003 HEROES Act gives the education secretary authority to deliver student loan debt relief. That law allows student loan debt relief when there is a national emergency to ensure people are not in a financially worse condition as a result of the national emergency.
The high court's majority, however, disagreed, siding with a group of states that sought to block the law in the case of Biden vs. Nebraska.
"The Secretary asserts that the HEROES Act grants him the authority to cancel $430 billion of student loan principal. It does not. We hold today that the Act allows the Secretary to 'waive or modify' existing statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to financial assistance programs under the Education Act, not to rewrite that statute from the ground up," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
The court said the education secretary's authority to "modify" statutes and regulations allows modest adjustments and additions to existing provisions, not the power to transform them.
"The Secretary's comprehensive debt cancellation plan cannot fairly be called a waiver -- it not only nullifies existing provisions, but augments and expands them dramatically. It cannot be mere modification, because it constitutes 'effectively the introduction of a whole new regime,'" Roberts wrote.
The court said the congressional power of the purse means a massive debt cancellation like Biden wanted to implement is a power "that Congress would likely have intended for itself."
"The hypocrisy of Republican elected officials is stunning," Biden's statement said. "They had no problem with billions in pandemic-related loans to businesses -- including hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars for their own businesses. And those loans were forgiven. But when it came to providing relief to millions of hard-working Americans, they did everything in their power to stop it."
Along with Nebraska, and five other states including Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, and South Carolina sought to have the court cancel Biden's student debt relief program.
Roberts specifically cited Missouri's claims in the decision to block the plan.
"Today, we have concluded that an instrumentality created by Missouri, governed by Missouri and answerable to Missouri is indeed part of Missouri; that the words 'waive or modify' do not mean 'completely rewrite'; and that our precedent -- old and new -- requires Congress to speak clearly before a Department Secretary can unilaterally alter large sections of the American economy," he wrote.
Justice Elena Kagan dissented, joined by Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor.
Kagan said the HEROES Act clearly gives the education secretary the right to relieve student debt.
"The HEROES Act was designed to deal with national emergencies-typically major in scope, often unpredictable in nature. It gave the Secretary discretionary authority to relieve borrowers of the adverse impacts of many possible crises-as 'necessary' to ensure that those individuals are not 'in a worse position financially' to make repayment," she wrote.
Kagan said the majority in this case "will not accept the statute's meaning."
"Wielding its judicially manufactured heightened-specificity requirement, the Court refuses to acknowledge the plain words of the HEROES Act. It declines to respect Congress's decision to give broad emergency powers to the Secretary. It strikes down his lawful use of that authority to provide student-loan assistance," Kagan's dissent said.
In Board of Education vs. Brown, individual student loan borrowers Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor argued the education secretary improperly promulgated the debt-relief plan without required notice and comment rulemaking. And since both of them used commercial lenders, they did not qualify for the Biden student loan debt relief. The court unanimously ruled on Friday that the plaintiffs had no standing.
Before legal challenges stopped it, 26 million borrowers had applied for the Biden student loan debt relief and 16 million were approved, according to the White House.
The Biden administration sought to give up to $10,000 in student debt relief to individual borrowers with incomes less than $125,000 or $250,000 for borrowers filing jointly. For Pell grant recipients the debt relief would be up to $20,000.
Cornell Law School professor Robert C. Hockett told UPI in an emailed response that the court opinion ignored the meaning and intent of the HEROES Act, dismissing the Department of Education's understanding and application of the law's waiver provision.
"The putative ground given by the conservative supermajority for its cavalier dismissal of the department's construal of its enabling legislation -- namely, that the magnitude of the department's waiver is larger than those of previous waivers -- is nothing short of bizarre in its complete disregard of the simple truth that the pandemic itself, which occasioned the waiver program, was itself more devastating by orders of magnitude than has been any other national calamity since the passage of the HEROES Act."
Hockett said this court is making radical decisions.
"How the conservative supermajority manages to convince itself that its recent spate of radical decisions is legitimate is anyone's guess. But it's hard not to conjecture that it has something to do with both (a) complete contempt for judicial precedent, and (b) a similar contempt for, or sheer ignorance of, the living conditions of the vast majority of Americans in the present era," Hockett said.
He said the combined upshot of this decision and the one gutting affirmative action for university admissions "will be in significant measure to restore the old world of a century ago, when higher education was a privilege enjoyed by the white and the wealthy but few others."
The president said he wouldn't stop fighting on the issue.
"Let me be clear, Republicans in Congress, this is not about reducing the deficit, it's not about fairness in forgiving loans, it's only about forgiving loans they have to pay. Today, the Supreme Court sided with them. I believe the Court's decision to strike down my student debt relief program was a mistake, was wrong. I'm not gonna stop fighting to deliver borrowers what they need, particularly those at the bottom end of the economic scale," Biden said.
Student debt relief activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. The Supreme Court blocked
President Joe Biden's student loan debt relief plan from taking effect, delivering rulings in a pair of cases challenging the program. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo