August 18, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Why is the left demanding that Biden cancel student loan debts when Biden is in the process of canceling student loan debts?

To cancel or not to cancel is not the question. 


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Mehdi Hasan dedicated a segment of last night’s show to whether the Joe Biden administration should cancel some or all student loans. His guests Nina Turner, a veteran of Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, and Charlie Sykes, co-founder of The Bulwark, took sides for and against. 

It was a thorough-going conversation (though Turner’s eye-rolling was a bit much). It was, however, familiar – and that fact is worth dwelling on. A debate between two very interesting and forceful commentators felt like it was floating above the earth, unattached to concrete developments on the ground yet shaping them all the same. 

To cancel or not to cancel is, to me, not as interesting as is the dulling sameness of a student loan debate. This dulling sameness suggests that those involved in the debate are not sufficiently paying attention to a president, who, according to one expert, has canceled more student loan debt than any president in American history.

The dulling sameness of the student loan debate suggests that those involved are not sufficiently paying attention to a president, who, according to one expert, has canceled more student loan debt than any president in American history.

If those involved in the debate were closely paying attention, rather than continually affirming their priors for the entertainment of TV audiences, they’d know that the question is not if or whether the Biden administration can or should cancel some or all debts –  because the administration is in the process of doing just that.

The real question is for whom and why. 

“For whom and why” is why pundits don’t pay attention.

Recent developments
While dulling sameness raged on, Biden has become a champion of the poor and vulnerable people, eg, Black women, who have been scammed by for-profit colleges, which is to say scores of hundreds of thousands of people, all just trying to better their lives and fortunes. 

From inauguration until June, the administration has canceled $25 billion in loan debts for 1.3 million Americans, according to Forbes

That includes: $7.9 billion for 690,000 people who went to schools that are now bankrupt; $7.3 billion for more than 127,000 borrowers through “public service loan forgiveness”; and over $8.5 billion for over 400,000 people “who have a total and permanent disability.”

In June, the US Department of Education canceled about $5.8 billion in loans for about 560,000 students of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges, one of the largest. (It filed for bankruptcy in 2015.) Similar relief went out to former students of a bankrupt salon school.

In February, the administration discharged $415 million for close to 16,000 people, including 1,800 former students of DeVry University who got about $71.7 million in discharges on account of DeVry’s “substantial misrepresentations about its job placement rates.”

That same month saw discharges of approximately $343.7 million for almost 14,000 borrowers in connection with now-defunct Westwood College as well as the nursing program at ITT Technical Institute.

Speaking of ITT, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced Tuesday the cancellation of $4 billion in federal student loans for students “defrauded by a popular for-profit institution,” according to CNBC, namely ITT Technical Institute, which is also bankrupt. “It is time for student borrowers to stop shouldering the burden from ITT’s years of lies and false promises,” Secretary Cardona said.

There’s more coming
So bring the debt relief tally up to $29 billion, which is still more relief than any president in US History. There’s more coming.

It has been widely reported that the president is thinking about an executive order forgiving $10,000 for every borrower. He hasn’t made a move yet, but meanwhile, Politico reported something even bigger. 

The Department of Education has a plan to wipe out not only student loan debts linked to scammy for-profit “colleges,” Politico reported last month, but in addition “all types of federal student loans would be eligible for loan forgiveness, including Grad and Parent PLUS loans as well as federal loans owned by private entities” (italics mine).

And it also suggests that borrowers who ever received a Pell grant, financial assistance for low-income families, could receive an additional amount of loan forgiveness.

Again, the president hasn’t decided yet. But the midterms are coming. Loan repayments are expected to resume in September. 

Odds are we’ll hear about the decision soon.

Thank God for Joe Biden
Contributing to the dulling sameness of the debate is its categorical nature. Go big or go home, say the very loudest voices on the political left. (That’s catnip to opponents of student loan debt relief. Being all or nothing saves opponents the trouble of misrepresenting the other side’s arguments for the purpose of knocking them down). 

But all or nothing skips over for whom and why.

As you can see from the facts above, the Biden administration has focused its energies on helping the poor, the sick and the vulnerable. These people – again, most of them Black women – were doing what the Republicans always say they should do. They pulled up their bootstraps, earned a degree, tried to get better jobs and so on.

They got scammed instead.

What the administration is doing isn’t sexy. It isn’t transformational in a societal sense. But it is transformational to these people who have been shouldering mountains of debt with little to show for it.

For them, thank God for Joe Biden.

In the process of doing it
I don’t expect the political right to care about the fate of the poor, the sick and the vulnerable, because even real, honest and tolerable conservatives still think social inequality is natural and morally OK.

I do expect the political left to care, which is why I find that all or nothing posture toward the student loan debate kinda troubling. If it’s not enough for the president to lend aid and comfort to people near the very bottom of American society, what on earth is enough? 

My suspicion is that the political left – and as a consequence the political right, too – has not been paying close attention to what the administration has been doing because of what it has been doing.

Because of for whom and why.

In other words, in American society, the poor, the sick and the vulnerable are so invisible that no one involved in the student loan debate, not even the political left, spares much thought on them. 

After all, they’re out of sight. What good is there in fighting for them on TV when you can make-believe that the administration isn’t doing what it is, in fact, doing in order to demand that it does more of it?

The consequence is the dulling sameness of the debate over if or whether the administration can or should cancel some or all debts, even though administration has been in the process of doing it.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Jake Gerstein on August 18, 2022 at 2:44 pm

    The truth is, the far-left is not much better than the far-right. Bernie Sanders ABSOLUTELY helped Trump win in 2016. The Bernie-Bro-types somehow often find themselves directly aligned with the views espoused in Russian state-sponsored propaganda and their political efforts almost always further empower the GOP.

    Tulsi Gabbard is a legitimate Russian asset, just like Trump. She essentially claims to be left-wing but only manages to appear on FOX News and Tucker Carlson… Why is that? I think it’s because the only group of people who actually want to hear from the far-left is, ironically, Republicans. Most Democrats know their spiel is a huge waste of time and their historical track record for helping Republicans is absolutely flawless.

    They never learn from their mistakes and continually try to form a circular firing squad to gain traction against the more pragmatic (and dare I say, more intelligent) people in government.

  2. Kathy Routliffe on August 18, 2022 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you for this. I haven’t been paying nearly enough attention to the student debt debate, and you gave me straight information that I needed to know. And your final point – that we aren’t paying attention to those helped by Biden’s move because they are marginalized – is all-too-probably correct.

  3. Leslie Bianchi on August 19, 2022 at 7:29 am

    You’re getting it wrong as to why progressives continue to push Biden to cancel student debt as Warren recommends.

    It’s not just the scammed (disabled already always get the debt canceled though it takes time) but there are also many whose income-based monthly payments don’t cover all the interest never mind the principle. Many owe far more than they borrowed years later.

    First federal education loans should not be profiting off interest. Second, Biden really should listen to Warren.

    Biden mustn’t just focus on the poorest or the scammed when it comes to education. Middle class matters too as former students are the ones now raising families. Also 20% of current loan holders are over 50.

    Minimally, he could cancel the amount of interest & penalties/fees that’s been paid to date plus remaining accrued interest off the original balance & set the new balance of these loans going forward with no interest.

    He could also allow loan payments made to be fully tax deductible for everyone to the extent mortgage interest is or directly off their taxes owed, rebating if negative based on their original gross income.

    Education should be free. We should not begrudge giving wealthier people or those who were able to save for their kids education an education, a deduction off their gross income as it’s paid or when put into an educational account.

  4. Thornton Prayer on August 19, 2022 at 3:20 pm

    The problem is that actual performance is boring and repetitive which doesn’t generate much political heat or noise. Loud political posturing either by conservatives moralizing against eliminating student debt or self-appointed progressives complaining that not enough debt is being eliminated suck up all the media oxygen. Thank god Biden and the adults in his administration are focused on the real issues and the real people who need help.

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