Dishonest and shameful: Warren and Schumer's blatantly deceptive misdirection on student loans

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Last night, in a well-received CNN town hall in Wisconsin, President Joe Biden answered questions on a wide range of issues with voters from different walks of life. He discussed his administration's success in massively increasing the COVID-19 vaccine supply, his plan to open schools, re-establishing the United States as the indispensable country on the global stage, his support for gradually raising the minimum wage to $15, and his opposition to canceling massive amounts of student debt on a broad, universal basis.

It is this last part that has been causing spasms among the left since the words "I will not make that happen" came out of Biden's mouth in a response to a question that asked him how he plans to deliver $50,000 per-borrower blanket relief on student loans.

Those on the left who've been pushing the President to overstep his authority and forgive $50,000 for all student loan borrowers appeared stunned at Biden's refreshing, blunt, pointed critique of their demand as well as at his bold assertion that he, as President, simply does not have the monarchical powers to do it without Congress.

As I have written before, the President is right. The broad, detailed analysis can be found here, but here is a bullet pointed summary:

  • Executive power to modify student loans is limited: The executive branch, specifically the Secretary of Education under the President's orders, can act to modify or forgive student loans based on certain criteria and qualifications, but they cannot do so on a blanket and universal basis.
  • Executive power to modify student loans is not independent: The grant of power to modify and cancel loans is not an independent power. Congress specifically stated that those powers are to be exercised "in performance" of the other duties, under the Higher Education Act.
  • Congress doesn't write blank checks without saying so: If Congress wanted to allow the executive to be unrestrained in using money it allocates under the power of the purse, the strongest power Congress has, it would have done so explicitly. It did not.
  • Congress is explicit about differentiating between loans and grants: The fact that Congress created both student loans and student grant programs clearly signifies that Congress intended - except under certain circumstances - the loans to be collected. If Congress had meant for the executive to be able to - without further need for Congressional action - simply turn loans into grants, which is exactly what blanket forgiveness does, it could have done so, and again, did not.

In addition to why it's necessary for Congress to legislate any student debt forgiveness, it also occurs to me that if the case for canceling student debt on a broad basis is so glaringly obvious, its proponents in Congress should have a relatively easy time finding 218 votes in the House (217 now, given that three House seats are presently vacant) and 50 votes in the Senate to do what they are proposing, pass legislation that fits their wishes, and send that legislation to the President for his signature. So why not do that?

Could it be because only a quarter of American adults have student loans, and if Congress begins to legislate, people might start asking questions about why those suffering from other forms of debt, such as credit card debt, medical debt, mortgage debt, and small business debt shouldn't also have those debts retired by Congress? What, after all, makes student debt so deserving of relief but not other forms of debt? And if student debt is special, could it be that a question would also raised that Congress should compensate - up to $50,000 - those Americans who slogged through the rough and paid off their student loans?

The question must be asked why, then, high profile members of Congress - from Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren to Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez - are not out there rounding up the votes for such legislation instead of blatantly deceiving people about what President Obama and Donald Trump did on student loans.

And let's be absolutely sure. Lying about what Obama and Trump did is exactly what Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren are doing with their statement on student loans.

The idea that either Trump or President Obama used executive authority to cancel student loans on a broad, criteria-free, universal basis - the thing that Warren, Schumer, and others on the left are arguing for - is not just a falsehood. It is an intentional deception. It is intentional because there is no way that people like Warren and Schumer - and any other member of Congress promoting it - does not know that it's false, and if they didn't, their ignorance alone should be grounds for disqualification from their Congress seats and salaries.

Here is what Obama and Trump did do.

President Obama, first and foremost, enacted major student loan reform by law (that means with Congress) which cut out the middleman (banks) and had the federal government directly issue loans. He also made it easier by executive action for borrowers to apply for existing, criteria-based relief programs, specifically in instances where for-profit schools were defrauding and ripping students off. This is known as the Borrower Defense Repayment Program. President Obama did not create a blanket relief program that anyone and everyone qualified for.

Donald Trump and Betsy Devos made major changes to the Borrower Defense Repayment Program, including forcing students to prove that their for-profit colleges knowingly ripped them off. They summarily denied the claims of 94% of borrowers. The only positive change Donald Trump made toward student loan relief was instruct the Department of Education and the Veterans Administration to automatically enroll veterans who are eligible for certain student loan forgiveness and tax penalty waiver programs after Congress eliminated tax penalties on forgiven student loans for people with severe disabilities. Again, no blanket relief programs.

Warren and Schumer are disingenuously and dishonestly treating previous administrations' offer of targeted relief to borrowers facing specific circumstances - usually after Congress made changes to the law that sparked those actions - as precedent-setting to claim the executive has unilateral and unchecked power to forgive student debt without qualification or circumstance. This is a lie. And Warren and Schumer know it. They are inventing executive authority out of whole cloth, ironically it is within their power - and only their power as legislators - to do what they are demanding someone else do.

It's time to stop the deception.