A Challenge to Student Debt Relief

Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether President Biden can cancel student debt. The justices’ eventual ruling will affect tens of millions of low- and middle-income Americans who could qualify for up to $20,000 in student debt forgiveness.

The case itself, however, revolves more around technical legal arguments than around policy debates about whether borrowers need help. Today’s newsletter will explain both the underlying issues and the legal arguments.

What is the case for debt relief?

For years, progressives have called attention to the increasing education debt that many Americans have accumulated, demanding that the federal government cancel some or all of it.

The Biden administration heeded their calls, though it took a relatively cautious approach. It limited eligibility to single Americans making up to $125,000 a year and married couples making up to $250,000. Those eligible can get up to $20,000 in debt relief. The goal was to aid low- and middle-income Americans in particular, administration officials have said.

The program would help around 40 million Americans. It would cost around $400 billion over 30 years. In comparison, the clean energy funding in last year’s climate bill totals about $400 billion over 10 years.

Biden proposed this program because related legislation did not have enough support to pass Congress. He cited a federal law that allows his administration to take action during a national emergency. Both he and Donald Trump used that law to pause loan repayments earlier in the pandemic, when the U.S. unemployment rate reached its highest point since World War II. The Biden administration wanted to go further to actually cancel some debt.

But without congressional approval, the program is more vulnerable to legal challenges. Six states sued to stop it last year. Courts put the program on hold while the legal challenges play out.

What do critics say?

They say debt relief is an overreach of presidential power. The Wall Street Journal editorial board has argued that allowing such a sweeping and expensive program to continue would amount to letting the president “steal Congress’s power of the purse and act like a king.”

Critics argue that the administration has yet to demonstrate that Covid hurt those who would benefit from student debt relief. In fact, the White House has said that “household finances are stronger than pre-pandemic.” The critics also point out that the Biden administration plans to end the officially declared emergency for Covid this spring.

“I’ll be interested in whether the administration’s statement that the pandemic emergency will end in May makes some of the justices skeptical about whether the loan forgiveness program is warranted,” my colleague Adam Liptak, who covers the court, said.

What is Biden’s response?

The administration argues that the program is tailored to help Americans who could be left worse off by the pandemic.

To the extent those people are doing better now than they were before the pandemic, it is largely because the federal government provided so much help, including the student debt reprieve, the administration argues. And the economic effects of Covid linger.

A political reality is also clear, though White House officials typically won’t acknowledge it publicly: This approach is the best they could come up with so long as Congress doesn’t act on student debt.

It is a pattern that has persisted over the past couple of decades. When Congress is gridlocked, presidents often try to act unilaterally. But presidents have limited latitude for new policies without new legislation, so their unilateral actions are more vulnerable to legal challenges — putting the courts at the center of major political battles. “The courts are powerful in the U.S. because the legislature is broken,” Kim Lane Scheppele, a legal expert at Princeton University, said.

What could the court do?

The court case itself is not about the merits of the program, but about the president’s powers in the absence of a mandate from Congress.

If the Supreme Court agrees with Biden’s critics that the loan forgiveness plan is presidential overreach, the court could end the program entirely. It could also further limit presidential powers beyond debt relief, potentially restraining executive actions on other fraught political and economic issues. Given the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, that outcome is plausible.

There is a second legal question in the case: whether states have the right to sue at all over the program. The details can get painfully technical. The Biden administration has argued that the states have failed to show how the program hurts them and so lack the standing to sue. If the court disagrees, it could empower states to bring even more legal challenges to federal policy.

For more

The Supreme Court has been hostile to other programs justified by the pandemic, Adam Liptak writes.

The court agreed to hear a case that could gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, part of another effort by conservatives to limit the federal government’s power.



Chip makers seeking U.S. funding will need to limit stock buybacks and guarantee workers’ child care.

Rupert Murdoch, who controls Fox News, acknowledged that several of the network’s hosts endorsed false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

The White House announced plans to crack down on migrant child labor after a Times investigation.

Chicago is voting for mayor today in an election dominated by crime and the performance of the incumbent, Lori Lightfoot.

Hackers broke into a division of the Justice Department and stole personal information about targets and employees.

Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat and former C.I.A. analyst, is running for the Senate.


Britain and the European Union agreed to resolve a trade conflict in Northern Ireland. The deal could help British politics move past Brexit after seven years.

Hong Kong is ending one of the world’s last mask mandates.

Another earthquake struck Turkey, in the region devastated by a quake this month that killed more than 50,000 people.

U.S. forces are training an elite Somali unit to fight the country’s branch of Al Qaeda, part of America’s “forever wars” against terrorism.

War in Ukraine

Two cabinet officials took diplomatic trips: Janet Yellen promised aid in Ukraine and Antony Blinken urged former Soviet states to keep their distance from Russia.

European countries are unprepared to send Ukraine the tanks they promised.

Abandoned pets are filling a Ukrainian animal shelter.

Other Big Stories

A storm brought snow to the northeast, after an unusually warm winter.

Nearly 100 immigrants won a settlement in a suit claiming federal agents racially profiled and physically abused them during a raid at a Tennessee meatpacking plant.

Nearly two dozen whales have washed up on the East Coast recently. Climate change and online shopping are partly to blame.


Violence, expanding settlements and a judicial power grab have turned Israeli society into a boiler with too much steam, Thomas Friedman argues.

Biden’s support for his son’s struggle with addiction is moving. But he needs to let Hunter Biden face the consequences of his actions, Ana Marie Cox says.

McNuggets out, madeleines in: As our socioeconomic positions change, so do our tastes, Adrian Rivera writes.


The fast and the curious: Fans are filling the stands of Formula 1’s Miami Grand Prix.

Best friends: Sonny the Labrador and Uno the bulldog were pals — until an N.B.A. trade separated their owners.

Death Valley: See the salt flats and volcanic hills, before it gets too hot.

A morning listen: How “seductive” food fuels obesity.

Gone in a year? These temporary tattoos were “made to fade.” Many haven’t.

Advice from Wirecutter: How to choose the best running shoes.

Lives Lived: Bob Richards, a minister nicknamed the Vaulting Vicar, won two Olympic gold medals during the Cold War. He died at 97.


Talks in progress: The N.B.A. and its players’ association are nearing a deal that would lower the draft age to 18.

N.B.A. purchase: Jimmy Haslam, who owns the Cleveland Browns, is buying a stake in the Milwaukee Bucks.

Wentz cut: The Washington Commanders released Carson Wentz, the third team in three years to sever ties with the quarterback.


How to find awe

Finding wonder in our everyday lives can be difficult, but the British author Katherine May has a simple question to get you started: What soothes you? It might be going on a walk. Or visiting an art museum. Or looking out the window at the falling snow.

Whatever you find soothing, May advises that you try to do it every day. One of her own examples is staring at the moon. “It’s just a lovely, lovely thing to do. Every day. And it’s so easy,” she said.


What to Cook

Make this hearty and comforting winter squash with rice soup.

What to Read

The Times’s romance columnist recommends books about love.


Spend 36 hours in Miami.

Late Night

Jimmy Kimmel says he caused a “Trumper tantrum.”

Now Time to Play

The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was awkwardly. Here is today’s puzzle.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Sassy (four letters).

And here’s today’s Wordle.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — German

P.S. “Everyone makes mistakes when they travel”: Seth Kugel, who writes The Times’s Tripped Up advice column, wants to solve your travel nightmare.

Here’s today’s front page.

“The Daily” is about the earthquake in Turkey.

Matthew Cullen, Lauren Hard, Lauren Jackson, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article