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Can Biden legally cancel massive levels of student loan debt? He’s exploring it

April 1, 2021, 8:32 PM UTC

On Thursday, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said that President Joe Biden has asked the Secretary of Education to explore if the executive branch has the legal authority to wipe out student loan debt.

“Hopefully we’ll see that [memo] in the next few weeks. And then he’ll look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that [student debt] and he’ll make a decision,” Klain told Politico on Thursday after the media outlet asked if Biden was looking into using an executive order to forgive $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower—something many progressive lawmakers support.

That push to forgive student loan debt is getting louder within the Democratic party. Last month Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) tweeted: “This is just the beginning. Let’s go bigger and cancel up to $50,000 for all federal student loan borrowers!”

This memo request comes just days after the Department of Education announced it will forgive $1 billion in student debt held by defrauded borrowers, and another $1.3 billion held by Americans with permanent disabilities. But in the grand scheme of things those two rounds of student loan forgiveness are pretty small. In total, there is around $1.7 trillion total outstanding student loan debt. More than $1.4 trillion of that total is federal student loan debt.

Even if the U.S. Department of Education tells Biden he has the legal power to forgive massive levels of debt, it’s unclear if the president would do it—or goes as high as $50,000. After all, in February Biden bluntly shot down the idea of $50,000 forgiveness per student, saying “I will not make that happen.” Instead, Biden has stated he supports Congress passing legislation that forgives $10,000 per student loan borrower.