Joe Biden Says He Won’t Eliminate $50K in Student Loan Debt—and the Left Isn’t Happy

AOC and Ayanna Pressley took issue with the president’s comments at a town hall.
President Joe Biden talks with audience members as he waits for a commercial break to end during a televised town hall event at Pabst Theater, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Milwaukee.

President Joe Biden disagrees with a plan floated by Senate Democrats to eliminate up to $50,000 in student loans for each American via an executive order, and says he doesn’t think he has the authority to do it.

Progressive lawmakers don’t think that’s a good answer. 

In response to a question about erasing that level of debt at a Town Hall on Tuesday night, Biden said he “will not make that happen,” and added that the money used to forgive debt for students who went to elite universities would be better spent on early childhood education. 


“I'm prepared to write off a $10,000 debt, but not $50,000,” Biden said. “Because I don't think I have the authority to do it by signing the pen.”

But high-profile politicians on the left hit back at his claims almost immediately, either directly or indirectly.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in particular took issue with the president’s argument that debt cancellation would divert resources from other education issues.

“Who cares what school someone went to? Entire generations of working class kids were encouraged to go into more debt under the guise of elitism. This is wrong,” she wrote on Twitter, adding that “nowhere does it say we must trade-off early childhood education for student loan forgiveness.”

“The case against student loan forgiveness is looking shakier by the day,” she wrote in a follow-up tweet. “Biden’s holding back, but many of the arguments against it just don’t hold water on close inspection.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts posted a video on Twitter after Biden’s comments, featuring Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Lending, arguing that the president  had the authority to erase $50,000 in student loan debt for every American. “Does President @JoeBiden have the authority to cancel student debt with the stroke of a pen?” Pressley wrote. “Yes.” 

She also shared a link to an NBC News article citing a survey showing 40 percent of registered Black voters would consider not voting in the next election without action on student loan debt. That post was then  retweeted by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, another member of the Squad who has called for student debt cancellation. 


“#CancelStudentDebt,” Pressley tweeted. “All of it.” 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former rival of Biden’s for the Democratic presidential nomination, have publicly said for months that Biden has the authority to eliminate up to $50,000 in student loans for every American with federal student loans. 

“With the stroke of a pen on day one, the Biden-Harris administration can right this wrong,” the pair wrote in an op-ed for the news and culture site Blavity in December, citing statistics showing how large-scale debt forgiveness can help close the racial wealth gap. “They can bring us a step closer to fixing a deeply broken higher education system.” 

Schumer and Warren’s offices did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

The average graduating senior in 2019 carried nearly $30,000 in student debt, according to data compiled by Student Loan Hero, a student loan services company. It’s not just debt from elite private universities, either—the average graduating senior from a public university in 2019 had college debt totaling more than $25,000. 

Warren and Schumer’s plan would eliminate federal loan debt for 80% of borrowers, or 36 million people, according to CNBC.

Despite his disagreement with progressive Democrats about how much debt to forgive, Biden 

went on to promote other education issues at his Town Hall, including making community college free for everyone, and public universities free for everyone making under $125,000. 

“I understand the impact of the debt, and it can be debilitating,” Biden said.