The four progressive congresswomen known as “The Squad” have been some of the most vocal advocates pushing President-elect Joe Biden to cancel student loan debt during his first 100 days in office — and would be among dozens of members of Congress to financially benefit from such a policy.
Fifty-nine members of Congress reported owing student loans in their latest financial disclosures published last year, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. Collectively, the 59 lawmakers with student loan debt owe at least $2.4 million.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Omar reported owing between $15,001 and $50,000 in student loans (federal lawmakers report a range for their finances, but not exact amounts), while Tlaib reported owing between $50,001 and $100,000 in law school loans.
Representatives for the three congresswomen did not respond to a FOX Business request for comment.
Ocasio-Cortez, who graduated from Boston University, has frequently spoken about her financial struggles before she started receiving her congressional salary of $174,000 a year. In 2019, the progressive firebrand, then 29, made a student loan payment during a House Committee on Financial Services hearing.
“I looked at my balance, and it is $20,237.16,” she said at the time. “I just made a payment that took me down to $19,000, so I feel really accomplished right now.”
Omar, who graduated from North Dakota State University, has also discussed being a “millennial with student debt.”
“I know the cost barriers to education is unacceptable especially when compared to the tax breaks we give to the wealthy,” she tweeted in August 2018. “Debt-forgiveness and tuition-free college is an investment in our students, our people, and our economy.”
The congresswomen are among a bevy of progressive voices urging Biden to use executive action and cancel student loan debt, which has doubled over the past decade, nearing a staggering $1.7 trillion.
“Student loan forgiveness is good, actually,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday. “We should also push for tuition-free public colleges to avoid this huge debt bubble from financially decimating ppl every generation. It’s one of the easiest progressive policies to ‘pay for,’ w/ multiple avenues from a Wall St transaction tax to an ultra-wealth tax to cover it.”
Ocasio-Cortez previously introduced legislation alongside Omar, as well as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would eliminate tuition and fees at all public four-year colleges and universities, and eliminate all $1.6 trillion in student loan debt for 45 million Americans. The proposal would be paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation, with a 0.5% fee on stock trades; 0.1% bond fee and 0.005% fee on derivatives.
And in March, Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., introduced the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, which would cancel at least $30,000 in student loan debt for each borrower as part of a coronavirus pandemic relief measure.
“Student debt cancelation will ensure an equitable economic recovery from COVID-19, jumpstart our economy & close the racial wealth gap,” Pressley (who has not reported owing any student loan debt) tweeted Monday.
About one in six American adults owes money on federal student loan debt, which is the largest amount of non-mortgage debt in the U.S. It has been cited as a major hindrance in people’s “economic life” by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.
Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have urged Biden to bypass Congress and cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt with an executive order during his first year in office.
Schumer said that Biden could use existing executive authority under the Higher Education Act to order the Department of Education to “modify, compromise, waive or release” student loans. He estimated it would provide total forgiveness to more than 75% of borrowers and partial forgiveness for more than 95%.
“Biden-Harris can cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt, giving tens of millions of Americans an immediate financial boost and helping to close the racial wealth gap,” Warren tweeted last week, referring to both the incoming commander-in-chief and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. “This is the single most effective executive action available for a massive economic stimulus.”
Such sweeping executive action would almost certainly face a legal challenge, and it’s unclear whether it could survive. Critics have argued that using such power exceeds the president’s authority granted by Congress. Canceling student loan debt would also add to the nation’s already-ballooning national deficit, which totaled a record $3.1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year.
Experts have said that Biden’s ability to follow through on his agenda, including canceling student loan debt, could be severely limited if the GOP retains control of the Senate, a battle that hinges on two January runoff races in Georgia. Democrats would need to win both races to secure a 50-50 tie; in that scenario, Harris could cast a tie-breaking vote to move the Democratic agenda forward.