President Joe Biden’s initial plan to forgive student debt was blocked by the Supreme Court last summer, leading his administration to develop a new relief package to withstand legal challenges. The U.S. Department of Education has crafted a more targeted approach to debt forgiveness in the hopes of overcoming previous obstacles.

The Biden administration’s revised plan for student loan forgiveness relies on the Higher Education Act as its legal basis, in contrast to the previous attempt that utilized the HEROES Act of 2003. The HEA, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, grants the Education secretary the authority to waive or release borrowers’ education debt. This strategic shift in legal justification is aimed at addressing the concerns raised by the Supreme Court in the past.

Unlike Biden’s initial plan, which sought to forgive the debt of nearly all 40 million federal student loan borrowers, the new relief package targets specific groups of borrowers. This includes individuals who have been in repayment for decades or attended schools of low financial value. By focusing on these subsets of borrowers, the Biden administration hopes to make the plan more palatable to a conservative-leaning court that has shown skepticism towards broad loan cancellation.

Despite the adjustments made to the student loan forgiveness program, critics remain skeptical of the Biden administration’s efforts. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, has voiced his opposition to the revised plan, suggesting that it may infringe upon the Constitution. The political landscape surrounding student debt forgiveness remains contentious, with legal challenges likely to arise.

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling against executive action on student debt forgiveness, the Biden administration is now pursuing a lengthier and more involved regulatory process. By engaging in negotiated rulemaking and seeking authorization from Congress, the administration aims to fortify its legal footing and make it harder for courts to strike down the relief. This approach aligns with historical trends of judicial deference to federal agencies with regulatory authority.

The Biden administration’s revised plan for student loan forgiveness represents a strategic shift towards targeted relief and a more robust legal foundation. By leveraging the Higher Education Act and engaging in a comprehensive regulatory process, the administration hopes to address previous legal challenges and provide much-needed assistance to millions of borrowers. The ongoing debate over student debt forgiveness underscores the complexity of the issue and the diverse viewpoints at play.


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