- Biden and McCarthy finally reached a debt-ceiling deal on Saturday night.
- It codifies the end of the student-loan payment pause while protecting Biden’s broad debt relief.
- Advocates are upset with that provision and want it removed from the final bill.
President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy finally reached an agreement on raising the debt ceiling — but it didn’t leave student-loan borrowers entirely unscathed.
On Saturday night, the two leaders announced they had come to a deal on raising the debt ceiling, and both sides had to compromise on their initial demands. While McCarthy passed a separate bill in the House last month that would raise the debt ceiling through March 2024 accompanied by $4.5 trillion in spending cuts, an analysis from The New York Times estimated the final deal comes to just about $136 billion in spending cuts.
Biden, on the other hand, remained adamant for months that raising the debt ceiling should be a bipartisan and clean bill, with no spending cuts attached. He didn’t quite get that, either. The agreement included strengthened work requirements on federal programs like SNAP, and it also codified the end of the ongoing student-loan payment pause.
The pause is currently set to end 60 days after June 30 or 60 days after the Supreme Court issues a final decision on the legality of Biden’s broad student-loan forgiveness plan, whichever happens first. While Education Secretary Miguel Cardona made clear in the past weeks that he is preparing for payment resumption this year, the debt-ceiling bill bars another extension this year, even if the administration ends up finding that borrowers need more time without payments. The deal would leave the current pause in place until its scheduled end date noted above.
Still, Cardona lauded the deal for protecting borrowers and allowing an extension in the future should a different emergency warrant it.
“Despite Republicans’ efforts to end targeted student debt relief and move up our planned end to the payment pause, we will ensure a smooth return to repayment process,” Cardona wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “The deal also protects our ability to pause student loan payments should that be necessary in future emergencies.”
—Secretary Miguel Cardona (@SecCardona) May 28, 2023
The deal also allows Biden to implement reforms to the income-driven repayment plan, which the administration is currently working on getting to borrowers.
However, some advocates are not happy with the provisions for student-loan borrowers in this bill. Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, said in a statement that the deal resumed Washington’s “decades-long, bipartisan push to profit off the student debt crisis and squeeze money from student loan borrowers in order to pay the government’s bills. This is a betrayal and is awful on its own terms. It also creates a major political problem for President Biden, who has tarnished his sterling legacy as a champion for working people with student debt.”
And Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, called for Congress to reject the student-debt provisions in the agreement. It would “end the student loan payment pause, which provides a vital economic stimulus to millions of students. Black women bear the highest comparative levels of student debt relief because they invest in education at a significant cost. They also pay taxes. To argue, therefore, that the current student debt relief is a giveaway from taxpayers is to use a racist talking point,” Johnson said in a statement.
The debt ceiling bill is set to get marked up in a committee hearing on Tuesday, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will likely attempt to remove provisions from the agreement they do not agree with. Democratic lawmakers have not yet commented on whether they will seek to eliminate the student-loan provisions, but with the US on track to default as early as June 5, lawmakers need to move quickly to get some version of the bill to Biden’s desk.