(The Hill) — Republicans have introduced legislation that seeks to put a stop to the Biden administration’s current pandemic freeze on federal student loan payments while also limiting the president’s authority to suspend repayments going forward.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and Republican Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Bill Cassidy (La.) and Roger Marshall (Kan.) introduced the bill, dubbed the “Stop Reckless Student Loan Actions Act,” on Wednesday.
“As Americans continue to return to the workforce more than two years since the pandemic began, it is time for borrowers to resume repayment of student debt obligations,” Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said in a statement.
“Taxpayers and working families should not be responsible for continuing to bear the costs associated with this suspension of repayment. This common-sense legislation would protect taxpayers and prevent President Biden from suspending federal student loan repayments in perpetuity,” Thune continued, while adding any future suspension of loan repayments “should be left to Congress, not the Biden administration.”
The bill comes as a growing number of Republicans have launched attacks on Democrats and the Biden administration over the continued pause on student loan payments, particularly as the pivotal midterm elections loom around the corner.
For months, Democrats have faced mounting pressure to show progress on a push by party leaders and members seeking a broad cancellation of student debt, often pointing to issues such as the pandemic’s impact on the economy, long-standing problems in the student loan system and the disproportionate burden faced by borrowers of color.
In turn, more Republicans have come out against the student loan pause, arguing the moratorium is unfair and puts an added burden on taxpayers while also benefiting borrowers with high incomes who are able to pay their debts.
In a press release on Wednesday, Republicans said that while the new bill would end Biden’s “untargeted, budget-busting suspension of repayments on qualifying federal student loans,” it “would still allow the president to temporarily suspend repayment for low- and middle-income borrowers in future national emergencies.”
The bill, the notice added, would also “prohibit the president from canceling outstanding federal student loan obligations due to a national emergency.”
“The majority of Americans do not have college degrees,” Braun said. “Why should they be forced to pick up the tab for college degrees in the name of pandemic relief? This transfer of wealth is not a move to ‘advance equity,’ but rather a taxpayer handout to appease far-left activists.”
The moratorium was first implemented under the Trump administration at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 and has since been extended six times amid pressure from voters and Democrats pushing Biden for further action on student loans.
The topic has become more important for voters over the years, with the number of student borrowers having seen a sharp rise in the past two decades.
According to Congressional Budget Office data, federal student debt grew sevenfold from 1995 to 2017, from $187 billion to $1.4 trillion.
The Federal Reserve estimated last year that roughly $1.7 trillion in student loan debt had been racked up by borrowers nationwide.
During his campaign, Biden called for forgiving at least $10,000 in federal student loans per person. However, other Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have pushed him to go as high as $50,000 per borrower or to cancel debt entirely through executive action.
Speaking Thursday, however, the President came out to say that number was off the table.
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” he told reporters at the White House. “I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction [per borrower],” he noted, “but I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there are there will be additional debt forgiveness.”
But advocates say that just not good enough. Especially for borrowers of color.
“Being able to achieve homeownership and being able to start businesses and being able to create jobs — it has a significant impact,” said NAACP President of the Washington, DC Branch and member of the National Board of Directors, Akosua Ali.
Earlier this month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden’s use of executive action to cancel some federal student loan debt is “still on the table” and that a “decision” could be made on the matter later this year.