Senate Republicans will try new maneuver to block Biden’s loan forgiveness plan

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Dive Brief:

  • A trio of Republican senators announced Friday they will try a new tactic to overturn President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive broad amounts of student loan debt, which is currently stalled in the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, John Cornyn of Texas, and Joni Ernst of Iowa said they will attempt to block the program using the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, a tool allowing lawmakers to reject recently enacted executive actions.
  • The latest barrage against the loan forgiveness plan came after the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an auditing agency for Congress, determined Friday that it is a federal rule and thus subject to the CRA.

Dive Insight:

Conservatives immediately started devising legal strategies to curtail the president’s loan forgiveness program after Biden announced it in August. It would wipe away up to $20,000 in debt for borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year.

Lawsuits against it have seen some success. Federal court decisions have halted the program, leaving its fate to the Supreme Court, which debated it publicly in February.

The Supreme Court likely won’t rule on the plan for months. But conservative justices who dominate the high court criticized the plan during February’s arguments, signaling its probable demise.

However, some Republican senators aren’t waiting for a decision, saying the program strikes against Americans who never attended college or paid off their student loans without government assistance. 

“President Biden’s student loan scheme does not ‘forgive’ debt, it just transfers the burden from those who willingly took out loans to those who never went to college, or sacrificed to pay their loans off,” Cassidy said in a statement.

The GOP senators’ action likely won’t go anywhere. A resolution to overturn executive action using the CRA requires a simple majority in both chambers to pass, and Democrats control the Senate. But it still forces a vote on the issue.

A U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said in an emailed statement it’s a shame “Republican lawmakers continue to fight tooth and nail to deny critical relief to millions of their own constituents impacted by the pandemic.” 

The spokesperson also took aim at the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, decision, saying the Biden administration’s program is rooted in “decades-old authority granted by Congress and is a result of the same procedures used by multiple administrations over the last two decades to protect borrowers from the effects of national emergencies.”

“This longtime statutory authority has never been subject to the Congressional Review Act. GAO’s decision is at odds with clear longstanding practice, and the Department remains fully confident that its debt relief plan complies with the law,” the spokesperson said.

The GAO deemed the program a rule because it matched the CRA’s definition of one, which is “an agency statement of future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy.”

Education Department officials published the program in the Federal Register, making it an agency statement, which also has a future effect, the GAO said. 

Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in a statement celebrated the GAO decision, saying the Biden administration had skirted federal law.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to hold the Biden administration accountable for this illegal, unfair, and costly student loan bailout,” Foxx said.

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