Supreme Court had no choice but to knock down loan forgiveness program
On the economic merits, we support President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel more than $400 billion in student loan debt for 26 million Americans. Rejecting more sweeping proposals that would have benefited the already well-off, the president and his Education Department smartly focused the most relief on those in the greatest need, forgiving up to $10,000 in college and post-college debt for Americans making under $125,000 and up to $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants to students from lower-income families.
But the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch — and the courts, too — is a precious thing, and there were always serious doubts as to whether the Biden administration exceeded its authority under post-9/11 HEROES Act (which stands for Higher Education Relief Opportunities For Students). We reviled President Trump’s abusive perversion of Title 42, a public health law, to turn back asylum seekers in search of humanitarian relief, and here, there was a strong case that Biden overstepped the bounds set by Congress in law.
The Supreme Court Friday agreed with that argument, saying that while the law authorizes the secretary of education to “waive or modify” statutory or regulatory provisions, it does not allow a wholesale rewrite of the laws and rules, which is what the Biden plan adds up to. As the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts points out, it doesn’t help that the loan relief program was issued “in August 2022, a few weeks before President Biden stated that ‘the pandemic is over.’ ”
We wouldn’t be surprised if this ruling, like the Dobbs decision on abortion last year, results in serious electoral blowback for the Republican Party that put these six conservatives on the court. That would be a very good thing: Millions of young Americans being squeezed by unreasonable loan burdens will be understandably steamed that government has turned its back on them. In a better-functioning democracy, Congress would come to their aid.
Instead, the president acted unilaterally, getting up hopes that were then dashed. It’s a mess.