Progressive lawmakers and campaigners said Friday that President Joe Biden must immediately pursue alternative paths to student debt cancellation after the Supreme Court’s right-wing supermajority struck down his program, denying relief to more than 40 million borrowers just months before the scheduled end of the loan repayment pause.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), one of the most outspoken supporters of student debt cancellation in Congress, said Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona must “use other tools available to them to swiftly cancel student debt.”

“The people demand and deserve this long overdue economic relief and a promise is a promise,” said Pressley, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). “The Biden administration should act immediately. I won’t let up.”

“It cannot be overstated how devastating this ruling is.”

CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) similarly urged Biden to “utilize other ways to cancel student debt,” warning that “inaction is not an option.”

“It cannot be overstated how devastating this ruling is,” Jayapal continued. “Before the pandemic, more than 25% of borrowers were behind on payments and 9 million borrowers were in default, with one borrower defaulting every 26 seconds. The Department of Education estimates those statistics will only get worse for millions without cancellation, and new research shows 1 in 5 borrowers will struggle financially when payments resume.”

“Time to keep Biden’s feet to the fire to actually fight to cancel student debt.”

Invoking the previously fringe “major questions doctrine”—which holds that federal agencies must have highly specific authority to act on matters of “vast economic and political significance”—the Supreme Court’s conservative justices ruled that Congress did not clearly grant the Education Department the power to cancel student debt when it passed the HEROES Act of 2003.

In her dissent, liberal Justice Elena Kagan excoriated the major questions doctrine as “made-up” and said the court’s conservatives only invoked it because “the majority’s ‘normal’ statutory interpretation cannot sustain its decision.”

Debt relief campaigners and Democratic members of Congress have argued for years that Biden should use the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965—which legal experts say clearly gives the secretary of education the power to wipe out student debt—to eliminate loan balances for tens of millions of Americans.

Under the HEA, the education secretary has the power “to enforce, pay, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand” related to federal student loans.

“It is very important to note this SCOTUS ruling does NOT remove Biden’s ability to pursue student loan forgiveness,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted Friday. “The Biden admin can use the HEA (Higher Ed Act)—our position from the start—to continue loan forgiveness before payments resume. They should do so ASAP.”

Echoing that message, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote that “the president has more tools to cancel student debt—and he must use them.”

“Despite this legally unsound Supreme Court decision, the president has the clear authority under the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cancel student debt.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, declared that “if Republicans could provide trillions of dollars in tax breaks to the top 1% and profitable corporations, if they could cancel hundreds of billions in loans for wealthy business owners during the pandemic when Trump was president, and if they could vote to spend $886 billion on the Pentagon, please don’t tell me that we cannot afford to cancel student debt for working families.”

“I am urging the Biden administration to implement a Plan B immediately to cancel student debt for tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to pay the rent, put food on the table, and pay for the basic necessities of life,” Sanders said. “Despite this legally unsound Supreme Court decision, the president has the clear authority under the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cancel student debt. He must use this authority immediately.”

Following the high court’s ruling, which sparked protests outside the Supreme Court building, Biden said in a statement that he “will stop at nothing to find other ways to deliver relief to hard-working middle-class families.”

The president said he will announce later Friday afternoon “the next steps” his administration intends to take to provide long-overdue relief to federal student loan borrowers, who collectively hold around $1.7 trillion in student debt.

The Debt Collective, a debtors’ union fighting for total cancellation, said Biden’s actions in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling should be held to a high standard.

“No application. No notice and comment. No return to repayment,” the group wrote on Twitter, arguing that such requirements “give the GOP a chance to kill cancellation.”

“Time to keep Biden’s feet to the fire to actually fight to cancel student debt,” the group added.

Survey results released Friday by the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) and Data for Progress show that a majority of U.S. voters would support the Biden administration using legal authority other than the HEROES Act of 2003 to cancel student debt.

Mike Pierce, SBPC’s executive director, said in a statement that Biden must “stand with student loan borrowers and use the full might of the federal government to answer their demand for justice and relief in the face of this lawless and shamefully political ruling.”

“Borrowers cannot afford to wait any longer,” said Pierce.

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