Activists keep up pressure as Joe Biden weighs student debt move
George Washington University student Kai Nilsen, left, watches as American University student Magnolia Mead as they put up posters near the White House promoting student loan debt forgiveness, Friday, April 29, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

student loan debt biden
“We need to keep our eye on the prize."

For student loan activists, the week began with hope as President Joe Biden gave his clearest indication that he was considering canceling federal debt rather than simply allowing borrowers to defer payments during the pandemic.

But that soon gave way to disappointment when Biden signaled days later that any debt relief would be much less than activists wanted. So Melissa Byrne, one of the organizers who has been leading the charge, got back to work.

First, she tweeted that activists need to “ramp up” their efforts, stay “warm + fuzzy” and “fight until we win.” (“White House staff reads tweets,” she explained.) Then she and her allies dove into their group chats as they considered ways to keep the pressure on.

“We need to keep our eye on the prize,” Byrne said.

The flurry of activity comes in a crucial stretch, with Biden saying he would make a decision in the coming weeks. After promising to address the issue during his campaign for president, he’s now weighing how much federal student loan debt should be canceled and who should benefit.

Critics caution that forgiving debt might anger voters who already paid off their loans, and Republicans describe the idea as a political giveaway in a midterm election year. However, an expansive approach could buoy young people whom Democrats view as a central part of their coalition, allowing Biden to deliver concrete results when many of his proposals from the left remain stalled on Capitol Hill.

John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, said student loan forgiveness is “a cornerstone in the relationship between President Biden and young Americans.”

Without young voters on board, “we don’t have a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president,” said Della Volpe, who worked as a consultant for Biden’s campaign.

About 43 million Americans owe $1.6 trillion on their student loans, more than either credit cards or car payments. It’s a growing problem for younger people, who have assumed more and more debt to finance their educations when public funding for colleges has declined.

And it’s a challenge that Biden has personally experienced. While running for office, he told a student in New Hampshire that he “ended up with a debt of over $280,000” to pay for college and graduate school for his three children.

“I get it,” he said.

In a poll of Americans under 30 years old conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School and released on Monday, 85% said the federal government should take some action on student loan debt.

However, opinions were split about the best path forward. Although 38% supported full cancellation, 21% wanted such a step to be taken for only those with the greatest financial needs. In addition, 27% wanted the government to help with repayment, but not debt cancellation.

Biden said Thursday that he was still considering what to do.

“I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there will be additional debt forgiveness,” he said. “And I’ll have an answer on that in the next couple of weeks.”

It’s possible that his idea will include means testing, which involves limiting by income who would see their debts forgiven.

“He has talked in the past about how, you know, he doesn’t believe that millionaires and billionaires, obviously, should benefit, or even people from the highest income,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “So that’s certainly something he would be looking at.”

During the campaign, when Biden was consolidating support in the Democratic primary, he pledged to “immediately” cancel $10,000 in federal student loan debt per person. But he did not use his executive authority to do so once in office — whether he has such power remains the subject of debate in Washington — and Congress took no action on his promise, either.

Now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling for $50,000 in debt to be canceled and some activists want all debt wiped out without exception.

Biden’s pending decision comes as he struggles to make progress on other parts of his liberal agenda that could appeal to young people, such as tackling climate change by expanding clean energy.

“We need to motivate voters and show them that Democrats are fighting for them,” said Emma Lydon, who lobbies for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “And this is a slam dunk way to do that.”

Sen. Mitt Romney mocked the idea by tweeting that “desperate polls call for desperate measures.” He added, “Other bribe suggestions: Forgive auto loans? Forgive credit card debt? Forgive mortgages?”

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked with Biden’s campaign, didn’t see a downside to the inevitable criticism.

“The voters who are going to grouse about this, we weren’t getting them anyway,” she said.

However, the issue can still be controversial among Democrats, even evoking raw emotions at times.

“We just had a fight about this in a focus group last night,” Lake said.

An older woman who had paid off her debts didn’t like the idea, while a middle-aged man with children was enthusiastic.

Byrne is trying to tip the scales as far as she can, and on Friday she plastered signs around downtown Washington with other activists.

“President Biden: Not 10k, not 50k, no means-testing,” said black letters on a hot pink background. “Cancel student debt, ALL OF IT.”

Some of the signs went outside places where there would be parties during the weekend of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Perhaps they would catch the eye of someone influential as they walked by in a tuxedo or evening gown.

Although it’s unclear what Biden’s final decision will be, Byrne said activists have already scored a victory.

“We’ve won the argument that we have to cancel student loan debt,” she said. “Now it’s about how much we can get.”


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • If it's free it's worthless

    April 30, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    So, are we canceling student loan debt going forward? Can I send my kid to school for free, or is it only for free retroactively? As an adult, can I give up my job to go back to school, knowing that my education will be paid for? What about the principle that you get what you pay for?

  • Impeach Biden

    April 30, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    You signed a contract to pay your student loans. The financial institution provided the college money on your behalf so you could attend that school. Now it is time to step up and pay off that loan just like all of the rest of us. If that incompetent old fool cancels your debt, someone is on the hook for it. Don’t push it to me. I have paid all my bills,

    • Jerry

      April 30, 2022 at 11:02 pm

      Congress is going to give $30 billion to Ukraine. They gave tens of billions to bail out banks in the last recession. They passed trillion dollar COVID relief bill. And our military budget is equal to the next 10 countries COMBINED.

      Yet your biggest concern is some college kids get their loans forgiven? That’s the hill to die on? That’s going too far?

      • Impeach Biden

        May 1, 2022 at 7:43 am

        What do you mean by “forgiven” Jerry? Does that money owed simply disappear or is someone on the hook for it? What about those of us that are financially responsible and pay our bills? Do we get some sort of credit? How about I go out and buy a new car and tell the finance guy that Biden is going to pay for it? Will he give me the keys? Let’s cancel auto insurance while we are at it. Heck let’s get rid of windstorm insurance as well. That should get that feeble, and incompetent President a few additional votes.

        • Won’t happen

          May 2, 2022 at 10:56 am

          “How about I go out and buy a new car”

          Then they will take it back Because trump voters don’t have money lol

        • It’s does

          May 2, 2022 at 11:03 am

          Does that money owed simply disappear.

          Yeah it does. Like southern greatness after the war lol

      • I would too

        May 2, 2022 at 11:04 am

        And he wonder why the kids are gonna take the money and run lol

  • Edward Lyle

    April 30, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    The colleges set the rate and the student signed on the dotted line… you want to be an adult?… then grow up and pay “your” bills.

    The rest of us paid ours, and have no business being forced to pay for your bad choices.

    Make the colleges cancel their students debt, NOT US.

    • Yeah right

      May 2, 2022 at 10:59 am

      “The rest of us paid ours”

      Look I seen the south. There’s a reason why there’s so many trailers. So stop saying you people paid anything off lol

      • Impeach Biden

        May 2, 2022 at 12:58 pm

        How about you “Yeah Right”? I’ll compare my finances to yours any day. Why do so many from up North, those Yankees, move down here and bring their idiotic politics with them?

  • Old Story

    April 30, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    Once more the hardworking, economically successful Americans will get fleeced under the color of law so Democrats can pay off losers in exchange for their votes.

    • Me and I

      May 2, 2022 at 11:06 am

      Dude you are a loser.

      The rich republicans make fun of people like you. When trump was in office you got no tax cut. I did lol

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704