Conservative Supreme Court skeptical of Biden’s student loan forgiveness program

Iowa’s federal delegation is looking to create more transparency in the cost of college and administration of student loans.

Liam Halawith, Politics Editor

The conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court appeared skeptical of the legal standing of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program on Tuesday morning during oral arguments. 

In the case of Biden v. Nebraska, justices heard over three hours of oral arguments from U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar and Nebraska Solicitor General James Campbell on the legality of the program that would forgive as much as $20,000 of student loans for select lenders. 

The program would forgive up to $10,000 of student loan debt for anyone making less than $125,000 annually and an additional $10,000 for borrowers who received a Pell Grant. Over 400,000 Iowans would qualify for student loan debt relief under Biden’s current plan. 

While the U.S. Supreme Court debates the program’s legality, the plan is on hold. 

Campbell argued on behalf of several conservative-led Midwest states, including Iowa, the program attempts to push a policy agenda without legislative action, usurping congress’s ability to make laws. 

“The Secretary [of Education Miguel Cardona] is attempting to bypass Congress on one of today’s most debated policy questions, student loan forgiveness,” Campbell said to the U.S. Supreme Court. “After many failed legislative efforts, the Secretary seeks to write off nearly a half-trillion dollars in loans for over 40 million borrowers. No statute authorizes this sweeping action.”

Prelogar argued that the HEROES Act gives the U.S. Secretary of Education the power to forgive student loans in the case of a national emergency. She said borrowers must be at massive risk of default on their loans to trigger such an action under the law. The Biden administration is well within the law in the student loan forgiveness plan, she said. 

RELATED: Biden’s new student loan plan will forgive up to $20,000 in debt

She said the student loan debt forgiveness plan is necessary to prevent a disruption in the economy and to prevent thousands of borrowers from defaulting on their payments.  

Campbell said that the law does not delegate the authority for the sweeping action of the student loan debt forgiveness program. The state asserts the student loan forgiveness program will cause massive financial harm to a state financial aid program in Missouri, cutting its operating revenue by up to 40 percent. 

The Missouri program, which provides aid to current college students, gains revenue from servicing direct loans for borrowers. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch also directed his questioning toward the fairness of forgiving student loans, but not all of the public’s loans. 

Prelogar said the HEROES Act doesn’t leave that up for interpretation, instead, it gives the specific authority to forgive student loans in the case of a national emergency. 

Iowa’s federal delegation looks to make the cost of college, student loans transparent  

Sen. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Republicans from Iowa’s federal delegation, co-sponsored legislation that would increase transparency in college financial aid offer letters and make it easier to compare financial aid offers between schools. 

The Understanding the True Cost of College Act would require the U.S. Department of Education to develop specific terminology and formatting for colleges. The bill also requires the forms to include disclosures of the estimated cost of attendance, the estimated cost the family is expected to pay, and the terms and conditions of financial aid. 

“President Biden’s desire to transfer $400 billion in student loan debt to working families is totally unfair,” Ernst said in a news release on Tuesday. “Student debt will continue to rise as long as students and their families are misled by colleges about the true costs associated with education.”

According to an analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 91 percent of colleges understate the total cost of college, 65 percent leave out important details about aid packages and 31 percent list loans as grants.

Grassley said the bill, S.1452, would make sure students understand the costs before making the commitment, ensuring that the complex process is made understandable for all families. 

“I often hear from Iowa families who are frustrated and confused by the complex student loan borrowing process,” Grassley said. “So much of the student debt conversation focuses on repaying debt. We ought to fix the process on the front end before students get in over their head.”