Progressive Urge Biden to Cancel Student Debt, Boost Wages on His Own
- The Congressional Progressive Caucus released 8 policy areas Biden should act on by executive action.
- The issues included broad student-loan relief, combatting the climate crisis, and boosting wages.
- This would allow Biden to revive his stalled agenda and give relief to Americans, Rep. Jayapal said.
House progressives unveiled a wide slate of executive orders they’re pushing the Biden administration to take on Thursday, arguing that Democrats must deliver on core parts of his domestic agenda with large chunks of it stalled out in Congress.
It amounts to a backdoor approach for Biden to enact swaths of his priorities unilaterally ahead of the November midterms. The party is defending razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate, and many are anxious about losing control of Congress if they fail to deliver. The House-approved Build Back Better package — containing the bulk of their planned social and climate spending — was torpedoed in the Senate. There are few signs it’ll be revived anytime soon.
“Over the past year, Democrats in Congress and the White House have worked to not only recover from the pandemic and Trump years, but to deliver greater equity and economic security for people across the country,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the 98-member House progressive caucus, said in a statement. “Tremendous progress has been made, but that work is far from done.”
The 55-point agenda spans these areas:
- Cutting healthcare costs
- Student debt relief
- Combatting the climate emergency and transitioning to clean energy
- Expanding worker rights and boosting wages
- Advancing immigrant rights
- Investing in care economy jobs
- Judicial reforms
- Overhauling the tax code to ensure its fairness
Progressive lawmakers have long been calling on Biden to take advantage of his executive powers. In November, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out the “enormous” amount of executive action Biden is sitting on when it comes to progressive priorities like student debt relief and climate action, later saying it would be “actually delusional” for Democrats to think they can win elections without following through on voter priorities.
Broad student-loan relief is one particularly salient issue. Although Biden pledged on the campaign trail to approve $10,000 in debt cancellation, he has yet to do so and has expressed hesitancy over his legal ability to act on the issue with an executive order. Progressives have maintained that he has the authority to cancel $50,000 in student debt via executive action under the Higher Education Act, but Biden wasn’t so sure and asked his Education Department to prepare a memo on that legality.
The memo has existed since last April but has yet to be released.
On healthcare, progressives want Biden to fix a so-called “family glitch” in the Affordable Care Act that shuts out families from getting federal subsidies if their employer offers what’s considered affordable health coverage. The group projects 5.1 million more people would be newly eligible for these payments to slash health insurance costs. They’re also prodding the White House to cut the cost of prescription drugs like insulin and Epipens, a top Democratic priority.
The progressive caucus is also urging Biden to use his pen to enact other swaths of the Democratic agenda, transitioning towards cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar and leveling the playing field on taxes.
While wages have skyrocketed in the past year, union power and membership still remains low. In 2021, union membership dipped yet again — following a trend of decades of diminishing labor power. At the same time, millions of workers opted to remain on the sidelines or quit in search of higher wages.
The Biden administration has aggressively reiterated its commitment to expanding labor power, with progressives rallying around the PRO Act. But even as wages rise, and labor actions tick up, the federal minimum wage has languished at $7.25 since 2009 — something that progressives have repeatedly attempted to change.
Biden has not yet commented on the progressive caucus’ proposals, but Jayapal remained clear that going around Congress is the best way to get quick relief to Americans right now.
“Taken together, these actions will have an immediate and meaningful impact on people’s lives: lowering costs and raising wages for working people to provide urgently needed economic relief, advancing racial and gender equity by investing in communities that have historically been neglected, and delivering on our promises,” Jayapal said. “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to realize these ambitious, but highly achievable, goals.”