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Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Gaffe

President Joe Biden wrongly said that he got student debt forgiveness “passed by a vote or two.” There was no vote. Biden simply announced that the Department of Education would provide debt relief, and the plan is facing a legal challenge.

Biden, who once described himself as a “gaffe machine,” made his latest blunder while speaking in a presidential forum sponsored by the media company NowThis. Video of the event, in which the president answered questions about the concerns of young people, was posted Oct. 23.

“What we’ve provided for is, if you went to school, if you qualified for a Pell Grant … you qualify for $20,000 in debt forgiveness,” Biden said. “Secondly, if you don’t have one of those loans, you just get $10,000 written off. It’s passed. I got it passed by a vote or two. And it’s in effect. And already a total of, I think it’s now 13 million people have applied for that service.”

A few minutes later, the college student who had asked Biden about the high cost of higher education followed up with a second question that correctly began, “Your administration moved to cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt through an executive action.”

On Aug. 24, the administration announced that the “Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients.” To be eligible, loan holders (or their parents for students who are dependents) must have an adjusted gross income for 2020 or 2021 under $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for married couples and heads of households. (See “Q&A on Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness” for more on the plan.)

The debt relief is being challenged in the courts, however.

In a lawsuit filed by six states against the administration, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 21 issued a stay, temporarily halting the loan forgiveness plan while the court considers the suit. The day before, a District Court judge had dismissed the case, saying the states lacked standing, or a right to sue. To establish standing, a plaintiff must show an injury was caused by the action the suit seeks to block, and must show that the court could remedy that injury. The states promptly appealed that dismissal.

As of Oct. 21, nearly 22 million people had applied for the debt forgiveness plan through the Department of Education website, according to the White House. The appeal court’s stay “does not prevent borrowers from applying for student debt relief,” nor “prevent us from reviewing these applications and preparing them for transmission to loan servicers,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “It merely prevents debt from being discharged until the court makes a decision.”

Robert Farley contributed to this story. 

Update, Oct. 25: A White House official issued a statement on Biden’s comment, saying he was referring to the vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, according to a tweet by Fox News White House Correspondent Jacqui Heinrich. The statement read: “The President was referring to the Inflation Reduction Act, which reduced the deficit by hundreds of [billions] of dollars, creating room for other crucial programs. As you know, no Republicans voted for the Inflation Reduction Act in the House or in the Senate, where it passed by a single tie-breaking vote by Vice President Harris.”

In his comments, Biden doesn’t mention the IRA. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the IRA would reduce deficits by $238 billion over 10 years. The Education Department estimated that the student loan forgiveness program would cost $305 billion over 10 years. 

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