(WASHINGTON) — California Rep. Ro Khanna on Sunday praised President Joe Biden’s continued efforts to cancel federal student loan debt after the Supreme Court struck down his initial plan to forgive up to $20,000 for some borrowers.
Biden said Friday that he will now rely on the 1965 Higher Education Act to try to enact debt forgiveness, rather than the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003, on which his initial plan was based.
“I am pleased that the White House is invoking the Higher Education Act,” Khanna, a progressive Democrat, told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl. “I do hope that the White House will make sure that the interest doesn’t accrue starting in September. I know the president has said he isn’t going to refer students to the credit agency. I also believe under the Higher Education Act he can stop the interest accrual.”
While Khanna said he was supportive of Biden’s new path forward — and would like there to be a broader payment pause while the administration pursues more ways to legalize loan forgiveness — he sharply criticized the Supreme Court.
He argued the justices overstepped their bounds and “usurped the authority of Congress” by limiting how the HEROES Act can be used, rather than deferring to legislators, “just because they think Congress gave too much power to the president.”
The post-9/11 era HEROES law enabled the U.S. education secretary to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision” regarding student loans to initially protect borrowers impacted by terror attacks. That law was later altered to include people affected by “a war or other military operation or national emergency” — with Biden maintaining that the COVID-19 pandemic qualified.
Karl noted on “This Week” that the Supreme Court’s analysis rejected the White House’s arguments, even citing a comment made by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2021 that Biden “can postpone [student loan debt]. He can delay. But he does not have that power [to cancel it]. That has to be an act of Congress.”
The high court’s conservative majority on Thursday ruled 6-3 that Biden did not have the authority under the HEROES Act to issue sweeping federal student loan cancellation, which the White House had hoped to do for more than 40 million borrowers.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion knocking down Biden’s plan, found that precedent “requires that Congress speak clearly before a Department Secretary can unilaterally alter large sections of the American economy.”
Khanna, on “This Week,” took another view.
“We can have an argument that the HEROES Act passed in 2003 shortly after 9/11 was way too broad in giving that kind of authority to the president and the secretary. I don’t believe it was the case. That’s a legitimate argument. The place to make that argument is in the United States Congress,” he said.
“It’s not for unelected justices to override what Congress has passed. And that’s what this court is doing. It’s very dangerous,” he continued. “They are basically reinterpreting congressional statute to fit their ideological preconceptions.”
While the White House had long resisted discussing what other avenues they might pursue if the student loan cancellation program was rejected, the president on Friday said he will invoke the Higher Education Act to allow Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “compromise, waive or release loans under certain circumstances.”
But it’s currently unclear how much forgiveness would be enacted under this strategy.
The White House will also implement a 12-month “on-ramp repayment program” during which the government will not refer borrowers who miss payments to credit agencies.
“This new path is legally sound,” Biden said in remarks after the Supreme Court ruling. “It’s going to take longer. And in my view, it’s the best path that remains to student debt relief to as many borrowers as possible as quickly as possible.”
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