Republicans Plan Lawsuits to Stop Biden’s Student Debt Relief

Republicans Plan Lawsuits to Stop Biden’s Student Debt Relief

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, September 1, 2022

Happy Thursday! President Joe Biden is about to give a rare primetime address to the nation from Philadelphia, where, against the backdrop of Independence Hall, he will deliver a grave — and inevitably political — warning about the threat facing American democracy.

"MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards. Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love," Biden will say, according to excerpts released by the White House. "For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us."

We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday, after Labor Day. Until then, here’s what’s going on.

Republicans Plan Lawsuits to Stop Biden’s Student Debt Relief

Republican officials around the country are discussing legal actions to challenge President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief program. The Biden plan announced last week provides as much as $10,000 in student debt relief for individuals earning less than $125,000 a year ($250,000 for couples) and up to $20,000 for borrowers who received Pell Grants, which typically are awarded to students from low- and middle-income households.

Lawsuits intended to invalidate or slow the relief program have been discussed by Republican attorneys general from multiple states, including Arizona, Missouri and Texas, The Washington Post’s Tony Romm, Jeff Stein and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report. Other conservatives and right-wing groups — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Heritage Foundation and the Job Creators Network — are mulling their own legal actions.

While no lawsuits have been filed yet, the legal challenges are expected to challenge the president’s legal authority to unilaterally dismiss student loan debt. The Biden administration says it has that authority under a 2003 law that gives the executive branch the ability to revamp student loan programs during a national emergency, which White House officials say applies during the pandemic.

Republicans say that the Biden administration is overstepping its authority. They also charge that the relief plan is fiscally irresponsible and unfair to those who repaid their loans and to those who have never gone to college.

Finding a complainant that has legal standing to sue — that is, someone who has been harmed by the program — is proving to be a hurdle for the Republican effort. "The difficulty here is finding a plaintiff who the courts will conclude has standing," Cruz said. "That may prove a real challenge." Conservative legal operators "have to find a client with the standing and the gumption to take on a lawsuit," John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation told the Post. "There are several groups in our network who are exploring that right now."

Assuming Republicans can clear that hurdle, some legal experts say that a suit challenging the president’s legal authority could stand a good chance of succeeding — especially if the case makes it to the Supreme Court, now dominated by conservatives who show no sign of shying away from politically charged decisions.

Fordham Law School professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman, who said he supports the Biden policy, told the Post that the national emergency argument the White House is relying on is weak. "If they keep going with this argument and this interpretation of the statute, it is likely they will lose 6 to 3, and it’s possible they could lose by more than 6 to 3," Shugerman said, referring to a possible Supreme Court vote. "I foresee this good policy being rightly struck down by the courts on legal terms."

Other legal experts say that whatever the strength of the argument about executive authority, Republicans may not be able to solve the basic problem of finding someone who has standing to sue in the first place. "It's very unlikely that any of these groups can prove they've suffered any legally cognizable injury that would provide them standing to challenge those actions," Abby Shafroth of the National Consumer Law Center told Insider.

Whatever the outcome, the fact that Republicans are pursuing legal action means that borrowers who would benefit from the program can’t be entirely sure that their debts will be forgiven. Even if the courts ultimately reject Republican lawsuits, there could be delays in the program taking effect as judges sift through the claims and counterclaims. "The uncertainty for borrowers in the meantime is, I’m afraid, considerable," Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor, told CNBC.

Pollution Far Costlier Than Government Estimates: Report

A new analysis in the journal Nature suggests that the economic cost to society of each incremental ton of carbon dioxide emissions is far higher than the federal government currently estimates in evaluating new regulations.

The Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis explain what they call they key finding in the new research: "Each additional ton of carbon dioxide that cars, power plants and other sources add to the atmosphere costs society $185 — more than triple the federal government’s current figure."

They add that such estimates have been controversial and the subject of much partisan debate.

Why it matters: "The value is an essential input in a lot of federal policymaking — whether to drill for oil, to boost the energy efficiency of appliances, to allow a power plant to continue burning coal," Grandoni and Dennis write. "Setting the cost of carbon high would encourage clean energy projects, deter new coal leasing on federal acreage and influence the type of steel used in taxpayer-funded infrastructure."

California Tees Up $54 Billion in Climate Spending

California lawmakers on Wednesday night passed legislation providing for $53.9 billion in climate spending over five years. The New York Times reports: "That includes $6.1 billion for electric vehicles, including money to buy new battery-powered school buses, $14.8 billion for transit and rail projects, more than $8 billion to clean up the electric grid, $2.7 billion to fight wildfires and $2.8 billion in water programs to help the state deal with drought."

The Golden State’s latest climate bills follow a recent ban on the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles in the state by 2035. The latest measures include a bill approving a $1,000 refundable tax credit to low-income California residents who don’t own a car.

The Times adds that California’s actions build on the $370 billion in federal climate funding in Democrats’ recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act, noting the federal funding "won’t be enough to eliminate U.S. greenhouse gases by 2050, a target that climate scientists say the world as a whole must reach to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. To help close the gap, White House officials have said that states also need to take more forceful action."

Number of the Day: 4.6%

President Biden on Wednesday announced plans to raise pay for civilian federal employees next year. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Biden wrote: "I have determined that for 2023, the across-the-board base pay increase will be 4.1 percent and locality pay increases will average 0.5 percent, resulting in an overall average increase of 4.6 percent for civilian Federal employees, consistent with the assumption in my 2023 Budget."

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