The GOP just tried the fast-track route to block Biden's student-debt relief. Here's why it probably won't work.
Republican lawmakers recently put forth a plan to overturn student-debt relief using the Congressional Review Act.
Given the resolution would require both the House and Senate to pass it, it's unlikely to prevail.
But the debt relief still faces challenges ahead as the Supreme Court decides its legality.
Republican lawmakers have a new plan to overturn President Joe Biden's student-loan forgiveness — but it faces roadblocks ahead.
Since Biden announced his plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers in August, Republicans have been on the attack, criticizing the relief for being costly and unfair vowing to do what they can to stop it from being implemented. They supported the two conservative-backed lawsuits that paused the plan in November, and the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the relief's legality by June.
But some Democratic lawmakers don't want to wait for the legal process to progress. Last week, GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy, John Cornyn, and Joni Ernst announced plans to introduce a resolution to overturn the debt relief using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which is an oversight tool that Congress can use to overturn final rules put in place by government agencies.
"President Biden's student loan scheme does not 'forgive' debt, it just transfers the burden from those who willingly took out loans to those who never went to college, or sacrificed to pay their loans off," Cassidy said in a statement.
"Where is the relief for the man who skipped college but is paying off his work truck, or the woman who paid off her loans and is now struggling to afford her mortgage?" he continued. "This resolution prevents these Americans, whose debts look different from the favored group the Biden administration has selected, from picking up the bill for this irresponsible and unfair policy."
With Democrats in the White House and Senate, it's unlikely Republicans would be able to sway members of the opposing party to support their resolution. Bridget Dooling, research professor at the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University and lecturer at George Washington Law School, told Insider that the resolution would need to be passed by both chambers — and ultimately signed by the president — and with a partisan policy, it would be surprising if such a resolution made it to the president's desk.
"If they do take a party line vote, you would not expect this to make it to the president," Dooling said. "In the event that it did make it to the president, it's been passed by both the Senate and House. You obviously wouldn't expect President Biden to agree to disapprove something that had happened under him in his administration. It's not impossible, right? He could do it, but you wouldn't expect it."
According to a GW Regulatory Studies fact sheet, the House or Senate can introduce a CRA resolution 60 legislative days after a rule, like student-debt relief, is announced. A simple majority vote in Congress is required to send the resolution to the president, and if the president vetoes the resolution, a two-thirds majority in both chambers would be required to override it.
What makes a CRA more appealing that introducing a regular bill is its fast track capability — it allows a resolution introduced in the Senate to avoid filibuster and any new amendment introductions, getting the resolution quickly to a final vote. But since Congress enacted the CRA in 1996, it has only successfully been used to overturn a rule about 20 times. That's because "the stars have to align for the Congressional Review Act to be useful," Dooling said.
"The Congressional Review Act is particularly potent as a tool in periods of transition from one party to another in the White House because that's a window when the sitting president might be more likely to sign a resolution that would disapprove a rule from the prior president from a different party," Dooling said.
Under the current Congress, lawmakers have passed one CRA related to environment, social, and governance (ESG) factors in retirement savings. Biden vetoed the resolution, but it's not stopping Republicans from ramping up efforts to ensure student-debt relief doesn't reach millions of Americans.
Other roadblocks student-debt relief could face
A CRA resolution might not work, but Republicans have still put forth other legislation. Last month, for example, Cassidy joined GOP Sen. John Thune in reviving a bill to end the ongoing student-loan payment pause and block student-debt relief in the future, and in August, a group of GOP lawmakers introduced a separate bill to end targeted student-loan forgiveness programs and place limits on borrowing.
Democratic lawmakers have opposed those efforts. With Democrats holding a majority in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said following the introduction of the CRA resolution that "Republicans are showing us just how callous and uncaring they can be to families trying to make ends meet."
"We will continue to fight this cruel Republican attempt to end student debt relief with everything we have," he said.
While millions of borrowers are waiting for the Supreme Court's decision on broad debt relief, the Education Department has also put forth plans to reform targeted programs like income-driven repayment, but officials have been unable to give an exact date for when they will be implemented, given that Congress did not increase the Federal Student Aid budget this year.
Additionally, a further extension of the payment pause could be at risk given a recent lawsuit filed by SoFi — a student-loan refinancing company — to end the pause, and at the very least, return borrowers ineligible for broad relief back into repayment. As Insider previously reported, borrowers probably do not need to worry about this lawsuit given the typical timeline for legal proceedings, but the existence of the case could prevent an additional extension, even if the Supreme Court strikes down Biden's debt relief.
Amid potential challenges, Biden's administration has not relented in its confidence student-debt relief will reach borrowers this year.
"Our student debt relief plan is necessary in the wake of the pandemic," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote on Twitter. "It's legal. It's needed. It's going to prevent defaults. It's the right thing to do. Across the country, borrowers and their families are counting on us."
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