KEY POINTS

  • Progressives are pushing for student loan forgiveness as an opening policy move for the incoming Biden administration
  • Even more moderate Democrats like Chuck Schumer have included the possibility as they look to make the Biden presidency another FDR administration
  • Schumer says the first $50,000 could be forgiven by executive order even if the Senate ends up deadlocked

The incoming Biden administration is facing pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to place student-loan forgiveness at the top of its agenda, citing an interview with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who recently said that the first $50,000 of a former student's debt could be canceled by executive order. 

In the Nov. 3 interview with The Ink, Schumer cited President Franklin Roosevelt as a model for the first 100 days of a Biden administration. It’s a comparison that Joe Biden himself has already made, suggesting he might make moves to bolster the working class and strengthen labor unions.

US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Photo: AFP / SAUL LOEB

Schumer mentioned a wide variety of possible policy goals: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a progressive tax code, campaign finance reform, immigration reform, election reform, criminal justice reform. He demurred, however, on more radical propositions like eliminating the filibuster or expanding the Supreme court. 

“We have to have unity in our caucus, right? I have a leadership team that meets every Monday night. On that team are [Massachusetts Sen.] Elizabeth Warren and [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders, and on that team are [Virginia Sen.] Mark Warner and [West Virginia Sen.] Joe Manchin, and we have had great unity,” he said. “[But] you have to get the majority ... I can't snap my fingers and make everybody do it, OK? You know that.”

The Senate majority is now precariously balanced on two Senate runoffs in Georgia. Even if Democrats manage to secure a majority in the Senate, Manchin has said that he would defect from any vote to expand the courts or eliminate the filibuster. That essentially moves the threshold of a bill passing the Senate to 60 votes, torpedoing the kind of left-wing policy goals Schumer mentioned in his interview.

That, along with rhetoric from Biden signaling that he wants to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans, has many progressives worried. Monday saw a full-court press on social media for student loan debt forgiveness, shooting the topic to the top of trending on Twitter. 

Some who had paid off student loans were less sympathetic, but most commentators didn’t want others to go through the arduous process they did.