U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley on Tuesday filed an amendment to remove the section of the debt ceiling bill that would codify an end to the federal student loan payment pause and potentially compromise the Biden administration's authority to implement another moratorium at a later date.
Pressley (D-Mass.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a vocal supporter of student debt cancellation, said the payment freeze "has been an essential lifeline for workers and families struggling to make ends meet" during the coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic turmoil.
"My amendment would protect student borrowers while also affirming the president's clear legal authority to implement payment pauses, broad-based debt cancellation, and other critical relief measures," said Pressley. "Republicans continue to play games with our economy, with disregard for our most vulnerable families."
House Republicans originally demanded a full repeal of President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan as part of any deal to raise the debt limit. But the measure that ultimately emerged from negotiations between the White House and the GOP would only cement into law the Biden administration's pledge to end the student loan repayment pause, which has been extended eight times since it was first implemented early in the coronavirus pandemic.
Campaigners say the provision could be disastrous for borrowers across the country, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Biden administration's debt cancellation plan.
If approved in its current form, the debt ceiling bill would cut off the payment pause 60 days after June 30, 2023 unless Congress greenlights another extension.
The bill, which the House is expected to vote on as soon as Wednesday evening, states that "the secretary of education may not use any authority to implement an extension" of the payment pause, but Education Secretary Miguel Cardona insisted over the weekend that the Biden administration will retain "ability to pause student loan payments should that be necessary in future emergencies."
In a statement on Tuesday, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) warned that the debt limit measure would bind the federal government to "a reckless and aggressive timeline to restart loan payments, irrespective of the outcome of a pair of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that will determine whether President Biden's August 2022 plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt can go into effect."
Mike Pierce, SBPC executive director, said the payment pause "remains one of the most durably popular pieces of economic policy because the American people recognize what Washington has long struggled to understand: the student loan system is broken and the burden of student debt creates a barrier to economic opportunity for all of us."
According to a survey conducted earlier this month by Data for Progress, more than 60% of U.S. voters would support an extension of the payment pause through the end of 2024 if the Supreme Court sides with right-wing challengers and strikes down the Biden administration's student debt cancellation plan.
"The debt limit deal raises the stakes even higher for millions of working people with student debt," Pierce said Tuesday. "We applaud Congresswoman Pressley for standing up for borrowers and their families and fighting to preserve this critical economic lifeline."