Today, President Joe Biden wants you to know that the White House has created its own path for blocking out something astronomical: Americans’ student debt. Of all the days the administration could have picked, it went with today—yes, a day that citizens have had marked for months to catch North America’s only total solar eclipse until the year 2044. This was the day chosen to unveil the long-awaited details for Biden’s second stab at forgiving the $1.6 trillion in federal loans owed by some 43 million Americans.

This afternoon, Biden formally announced the plan at a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s unacceptable to be in a country with such a great education system where the people are “hardworking, paying off your loans, only to see your dreams being crushed by student debt,” Biden said. “Now, thanks to what we’re doing, that student debt is no longer holding you back.”

Members of his administration were dispatched cross-country with the same mission—Vice President Kamala Harris to Philadelphia, her husband and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff to Phoenix, while Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was in New York City.

The administration notes that so far, $138 billion of debt has been forgiven under Biden, a not-inconsiderable achievement. But his first attempt was, of course, attacked by Republican elected officials in several states before ultimately being declared unconstitutional. Since then, he has announced a string of more legally creative, if less financially impressive, efforts.

“President Biden will use every tool available to cancel student loan debt for as many borrowers as possible, no matter how many Republican officials stand in his way,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre teased yesterday on a press call with reporters, with Education Secretary Cardona adding: “[The] announcement shows that we are continuing to fulfill our promises.”

How does this plan differ from Biden’s previous efforts? Is it actually broad relief this time?

This year alone, Biden has been busy extending loan forgiveness like an Oprah car giveaway: you get $5 billion forgiven, you get $6 billion forgiven, and you get $1.2 billion forgiven. However, today marks the unveiling of the White House’s official alternative plan for national student-debt forgiveness to make up for the one the Supreme Court shot down. The administration argues that this plan is indeed broader-based than the previous efforts, except for the original attempt that would have eliminated up to $20,000 of debt for tens of millions of Americans. If this one is implemented as it’s being proposed today, it would erase or lower the balances that more than 30 million Americans owe on their undergraduate and graduate loans, the White House claims. More than 4 million would see their total balance erased, while another 10 million would see relief of at least $5,000.

It focuses primarily on surging interest this time, making it more targeted than its predecessor that got shot down. The administration says this makes the new plan more likely to withstand legal challenges.

Who qualifies this time, and how much debt will be forgiven?

The plan targets five groups of borrowers, and extends different levels of relief to each:

  1. People who owe more today than on the day they first borrowed money, thanks to interest. This plan would erase the runaway interest for 25 million people, returning their balance to the original amount they borrowed. The White House says borrowers can have up to $20,000 of interest forgiven—though if they earn less than $120,000 a year ($240,000 as a couple), they can have all their accumulated interest forgiven. Under this part of the plan, the White House believes 23 million of those 25 million borrowers can have their full balance growth wiped away. “There’s an end to the nightmare of working hard, making loan payments,” said Education Secretary Cardona, “and still watching your loan balances get bigger and bigger month after month.”
  2. People who the White House believes are technically eligible for forgiveness, yet haven’t applied for it. The federal loan repayment programs are unwieldy—”confusion” and “chaos” are two common words found in news stories about them—while the White House’s own press release calls out “paperwork requirements, bad advice, or other obstacles” as contributing to the madness. Under the new plan, the administration says it’ll simply use data already on hand to look up who qualifies—about 2 million, by its calculations—then just automatically cancel their debt without asking.
  3. People who started repaying undergraduate loans more than 20 years ago, or graduate loans more than 25 years ago. They’ve been at this for long enough, the White House argues. Now, they’ll qualify for automatic balance forgiveness. The Biden administration predicts this applies to about 2.5 million borrowers.
  4. People who got loans to attend colleges that left them “with mountains of debt and without good job prospects.” The White House didn’t explain who exactly fits into this group, or sketch out any additional details about this part of the plan—which, admittedly, stands to be one of its least straightforward. It only explained that loans would qualify if they were for college programs or institutions that got booted from the federal student aid program or closed after failing to provide “sufficient value” to graduates.
  5. Borrowers facing financial hardship. Another ambiguous group, this last subset is only described as people who are heavily burdened by other expenses like crushing medical debt or childcare costs. People who qualify would be able to have their full loans forgiven.

Will this satisfy everyone?

Absolutely not. Republican politicians immediately blasted it as a “cynical effort to buy votes,” and Fox News argued that Biden is, variously, “so desperate to get young people to reelect him [that] he is willing to undermine both Congress and the Supreme Court” or “brazenly defying the law” and “shredding the Constitution.” Also, he’s in fact “not canceling anything,” but rather “transferring billions of debt from borrowers to taxpayers.”

Meanwhile on X (formally Twitter), there are dozens of left-leaning accounts—with names like Did Biden Forgive Student Debt Today?, Did Biden Cancel Student Loans Yet?, Has Joe Biden Cancelled Student Debt Yet?, and Did Joe Biden Cancel Student Debt Today?—that argue the president has the executive power to do it with, one assumes they believe, the wave of a wrist. They appear to have mostly ignored today’s news so far.

What hurdles could this plan encounter?

It will almost certainly encounter hurdles, and they fall into two sets. The obvious roadblock is Republicans. The less obvious one is the calendar: The plan has to be drafted as a set of rules, followed by a required several-month public-comment period, then consensus must be reached about the final language. Biden officials say this means the earliest any of the measures could go into effect would be by the early fall.


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