Elizabeth Warren says she will go around Congress to cancel $1.6 trillion of US student debt on 'day one' as president

jzeballos@businessinsider.com (Joseph Zeballos-Roig)
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  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday rolled out a plan to start forgiving Americans' $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt on the first day of her presidency, without Congress.
  • Last year, Warren put forward a plan to forgive a substantial amount of student debt for millions of Americans.
  • Warren said on Tuesday that she would achieve her loan-forgiveness plan through the Department of Education, citing existing legal powers.
  • The plan would likely run into opposition in Congress, where Republicans and even some Democrats are wary of its high cost.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Tuesday that she would circumvent Congress and start canceling the nation's $1.6 trillion in student debt on "day one" as president, drawing upon her executive power to do so.

Warren's $640 billion loan-forgiveness plan — rolled out last year — would slash up to $50,000 in debt for student-loan borrowers making less than $100,000. It's also designed to gradually forgive debt for people earning up to $250,000.

Her campaign pointed to a new six-page analysis from Harvard Law School's Legal Services Center, which found that debt relief for students was "a lawful and permissible use of the authority Congress has conferred on the Secretary of Education."

"Understand this: The Department of Education has broad authority to end the student loan debt crisis," Warren said in a tweet on Tuesday. "When I'm president, I plan to use that authority."

Federal data shows that the share of student debt has doubled over the past decade, to $1.6 trillion held by 45 million Americans, overtaking credit cards and car loans as the biggest share of debt. The average college student graduates with $30,000 in debt, CNBC reported in June.

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Warren's plan puts additional daylight between her and Sen. Bernie Sanders on their approach to tackling Americans' mounting student debt — a priority among progressives. The Vermont senator last year put forward a broader plan that would cancel everyone's student debt regardless of their annual income.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether it would also bypass Congress to enact a loan-forgiveness plan.

The Massachusetts senator's latest proposal reflects an increasing desire among progressives for muscular government action to enact sweeping initiatives in a period of gridlock.

Last month, the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute released an analysis arguing that the Education Department could wipe out student debt on its own under existing federal law.

But canceling student debt — or any kind of debt — by sidestepping Congress would likely run into strong opposition among Republicans and even some Democrats wary of its high cost.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a Trump appointee, has dismissed Sanders' and Warren's proposals to forgive student debt as "crazy."

A Quinnipiac poll last year, though, found that 57% of Americans backed Warren's student-loan policies.

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