Speaker Nancy Pelosi positioned herself against party activists and many of her fellow lawmakers with a statement asserting that President Joe Biden did not have the authority to cancel student debt via executive order.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the House leader argued that Mr Biden could only “delay” the payments of federal student loans, not cancel all or part of them.
“He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power”, said the speaker, adding: “That would best be an act of Congress”.
“Suppose your family was not ... your child just decided they [do] ... not want to go to college but you’re paying taxes to forgive somebody else’s obligations. You may not be happy about that”, she added.
Her remarks put her sharply at odds with both progressive members of the Democratic Party, who have argued that Mr Biden should cancel all federal student loans as a form of massive economic stimulus for millions of Americans, as well as the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, who has endorsed a proposal for Mr Biden to cancel up to $50,000 of each individual federal student loan.
“An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans. Cancelling $50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40 per cent of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy. It’s time to act”, said Mr Schumer and Sen Elizabeth Warren, a top progressive in the Senate, in a joint statement issued in February.
The speaker’s comments came a day after Mr Schumer, Ms Warren, and Rep Ayanna Pressley issued a call for the president to extend the pause on student loan payments instituted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as move forward with actions to forgive some loans.
One member of Ms Pelosi’s caucus, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, responded to the speaker directly on Twitter, writing: “Suppose your child did not want to go fight countless and endless shadow wars across the globe, at this time, but you’re paying taxes to fund all of that. You may not be happy about it!” Her tweet was retweeted by another congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Mr Biden has met the issue largely with scepticism, though the White House has shown some openness towards canceling some student loan debt at the executive level.
In April, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president was looking at his options on the issue, but was supportive of a plan to cancel up to $10,000 in individual federal student loan debt through legislation.
Such a bill would be highly unlikely to pass the divided 50-50 Senate.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies