Sen. Elizabeth Warren will start to cancel student loan debt from the first day she takes office if she's elected president, she said Tuesday, arguing that existing law would give her administration the power to wipe out student debt — without the need to pass a broad loan forgiveness bill in Congress.
Warren, who was the first major presidential candidate to call for mass student loan forgiveness, said she would direct her Secretary of Education to "begin to compromise and modify federal student loans," using a so-called safety valve in the Higher Education Act. Warren has said she would cancel up to $50,000 in student debt for middle-class Americans.
She cited experts at Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending, a group that has long advocated for student loan forgiveness, who argue that debt cancellation would be "lawful and permissible."
Her plan echoed a fight she waged during the Obama administration, when Warren helped identify a loophole of sorts — already encoded in the law — that enabled speedy debt forgiveness for thousands of students scammed by for-profit colleges.
Warren told BuzzFeed News in June that she saw a similar path forward for broader-scale forgiveness. "We could have a much more expansive student loan cancellation program under the current law," she said.
Any attempt at mass student debt forgiveness without the passage of a new law would likely be met with legal challenges from those who see it as an overreach of federal government authority. And it would represent a huge logistical challenge for the Department of Education, a federal agency that has so far struggled to implement much smaller-scale student loan forgiveness, even under the Obama administration.
But any student loan forgiveness bill would also face steep opposition in Congress, where many Democrats do not yet back such a measure, and all Republicans are sharply opposed. The Trump administration, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has brought student loan forgiveness measures for defrauded for-profit college students to a standstill, a move that is being challenged in court.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed an even more sweeping student loan forgiveness bill — one that would wipe out every single dollar of student debt for Americans, regardless of income or debt burden.
Warren's campaign provided few new details of how it would carry out or prioritize mass debt forgiveness.
"I'll direct the Secretary of Education to use their authority to begin to compromise and modify federal student loans consistent with my plan to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for 95% of student loan borrowers (about 42 million people)," Warren's statement said.