Sen. Mitt Romney, other lawmakers say Biden's student debt relief plan would burden taxpayers

Jason Flechsing, a senior at Boise State University, does class work in Boise on Sept. 22, 2022. Sen. Mitt Romney is urging President Joe Biden to halt the latest plan for student debt relief.

Jason Flechsing, a senior at Boise State University, does class work in Boise on Sept. 22, 2022. Sen. Mitt Romney is urging President Joe Biden to halt the latest plan for student debt relief. (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is urging President Joe Biden to halt the latest plan for student debt relief. He and other lawmakers say it's "the latest in a string of reckless attempts to transfer as much as $1 trillion of student loan debt from those who willingly borrowed to those who did not or have already repaid their loans."

Alongside fellow Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Katie Britt, R-Ala., and others, Romney opposed the plan in a bicameral letter addressed to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, saying it would punt the burden onto taxpayers who didn't take out loans. Ninety lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives also signed the letter.

"This is even broader than the department's first attempt: At an estimated price tag of $147 billion, taxpayers are being forced to take on the debt of nearly 28 million borrowers," wrote the lawmakers.

The Biden administration formally published its latest draft rules for student loan forgiveness on April 17. The plan includes forgiving student debt for borrowers who started paying back their loans 20 years ago (25 years for graduate school) and also providing relief for interest under certain conditions.

Republican lawmakers criticized the draft rules, saying they were outside the purview of the Department of Education. The lawmakers also pointed toward outside assessments showing how a significant group of borrowers with incomes over $300,000 will benefit from the proposal.

"In addition to the fiscally irresponsible nature of this backdoor attempt to enact 'free' college, the administration continues to use borrowers as political pawns knowing full well these proposed actions are illegal," wrote the lawmakers. "The Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that there is zero authority to write-off federal student loans en masse last June when the Department's 'Plan A' was ruled unconstitutional."

The letter also criticized the Department of Education for rolling out this proposal while "it simultaneously failed to competently implement the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA." Lawmakers said without FAFSA available to students on time, many of them will have to grapple with consequences.

The Biden administration's plan has also faced opposition from attorneys general.

Attorneys General Andrew Bailey of Missouri and Kris Kobach of Kansas wrote a letter to Cardona on Thursday criticizing the department for attempting "to shift the expense of student loans from those who willingly took them out to the American taxpayers."

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes signed onto the effort.

"Everyone from the Supreme Court to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has told you that you do not have the authority to forgive debt except in the limited ways Congress clearly outlined," said the attorneys general. "You must adhere to these warnings and follow the law."

The attorneys general argued that the policy goes beyond the authority the Department of Education secretary has and called it "bad public policy."

"Further, across-the-board student loan forgiveness results in a transfer of wealth from those who have the least to those who have the most," wrote the attorneys general. "About 750,000 households making an average household income of $312,000 would be eligible for debt cancellation under this proposed rule."

Some Democratic lawmakers have led an effort to support the Biden administration policy.

Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., James P. Clyburn, D-S.C., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., wrote a letter with 55 lawmakers' signatures urging the Department of Education to cancel as much borrowers' debt as possible.

"While millions of student loan borrowers and their families have been able to benefit from the administration's debt relief efforts thus far, the unjust decision by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court to strike down President Biden's original debt relief plan has forced millions of Americans to wait for much-needed relief," wrote the lawmakers. "The proposed (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) marks a long-awaited opportunity to alleviate the burden of student debt for millions of borrowers and provide much-needed economic breathing room for working families."

Romney has previously spoken out against student loan forgiveness. In April 2022, the Utah senator posted on social media criticizing the policy.

"Desperate polls call for desperate measures: Dems consider forgiving trillions in student loans," said Romney. "Other bribe suggestions: Forgive auto loans? Forgive credit card debt? Forgive mortgages? And put a wealth tax on the super-rich to pay for it all. What could possibly go wrong?"

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