Washington — President Biden said he is “taking a hard look” into forgiving some federal student loan debt on Thursday, but the amount he is considering is less than $50,000 per borrower, lower than some top Democrats have been seeking since he took office.
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” Mr. Biden said in response to a question at the White House. “I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction. But I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there will be additional debt forgiveness.”
The president said he would have an answer on forgiving additional debt in the “next couple of weeks.”
Mr. Biden’s comments came days after he gave one of his strongest signals yet that he’s looking to cancel student loan debt during a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday.
Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas of California, who attended the meeting, said the president never mentioned a specific amount he was looking to cancel, but said he was open to forgiving debt for borrowers regardless of whether they attended private or public institutions. When the lawmaker reiterated that the caucus supports canceling $10,000 in student loan debt, the president said, “You’re going to like what I do,” according to Cardenas.
In response to the president’s meeting on Monday, some Republican lawmakers blasted Mr. Biden for looking at forgiving student loan debt. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted that “Desperate polls call for desperate measures,” and mockingly suggested Mr. Biden was trying to “bribe” voters.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Biden said he would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt and called for Congress to act. He has extended the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan repayment several times, most recently through August 31. The White House has previously raised concerns that widespread federal student debt cancellation could face legal challenges if done through executive action, and the president last year asked his team to evaluate his legal options.
Pressure on Mr. Biden to act has been mounting as the midterm elections approach. Some Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have reiterated their calls for the president to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt, an amount that appears to be off the table for now.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said a decision on canceling student loan debt would be made between now and August 31, when loan payments are set to resume. Some Republican lawmakers and organizations oppose extending the pandemic-era pause, which saves some 41 million borrowers an estimated $5 billion a month in student loan interest payments. The pause was previously set to expire at the beginning of May.
In the meantime, the Education Department has made some changes to existing loan forgiveness programs. Since taking office, the Biden administration has forgiven more than $17 billion in student loan debt, including for borrowers who were defrauded by their schools, those with permanent disabilities and those in income-driven repayment plans or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.