WASHINGTON – The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to uphold its decision to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans for hundreds of millions of Americans, arguing that it was acting within its executive authority and needed new Congressional authorization was not required.

In a brief filed with the judges, the Justice Department dismissed legal challenges by a half-dozen Republican-led states, saying the states did not have a basis to seek the court’s decision in the first place.

The administration’s response to the challenges came a month after the court agreed to hear the matter and put the matter on an expedited timetable. The judges plan to hear arguments in February and vacate an injunction issued by a lower court that blocks the administration from moving forward with the program until legal questions are resolved.

The program will forgive up to $20,000 in debt to 40 million borrowers with incomes below $125,000 a year. If the court allows the program to proceed, more than 16 million potential beneficiaries have already been approved for relief, and millions more have applied. The administration said about 90 percent of the benefits would go to borrowers who have already finished school and earn less than $75,000 per year.

President Biden’s decision to offer the pardon represented one of the most sweeping spending decisions ever initiated by a president without a specific congressional vote. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost at nearly $400 billion over 30 years, with huge impacts on the economy over the next decade.

The states challenging the decision – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina – say the administration did not have the power to authorize such a massive move on its own and argued that it should be up to the states. would deprive it of future tax revenue.

“The administration is once again invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to grab more power than Congress ever imagined,” the states said in a statement. A brief filed with the Supreme Court in November, noting that the judges had previously ruled against two other COVID-related measures. “Now,” he said, “while President Biden publicly declares a pandemic, the Secretary and the Department of Education are using COVID-19 to justify mass loan cancellations.”

In March 2020, President Donald J. Most borrowers have already been able to skip student loan payments for about three years under a Covid-19 relief measure introduced under Trump and continued under Mr Biden. Mr. Biden’s administration has extended the suspension of payments through the end of September.

The Biden team’s legal brief claimed on Wednesday that the pandemic also provided the basis for the debt cancellation program, arguing that the administration had authority under the Heroes Act of 2003, which empowers the education secretary to grant wartime relief. permits or national emergency.

Education Secretary Miguel A. “The Secretary’s functions fall comfortably within the plain text of the Act,” cites Cardona as summarizing.

The brief also challenged the states’ right to sue over the program. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which temporarily stayed the waiver pending legal resolution, noted the potential for damages to the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, a nonprofit that services federal loans. concentrated.

But the administration briefly argued that the authority is separate from the state of Missouri and that any damages are highly speculative. The brief also noted that the two borrowers who filed the lawsuit in Texas, represented by a special interest group, did not have standing to challenge the program.

The student loan plan may have played a role in bolstering Democrats in the November midterm elections. While voters overall were relatively evenly split on the matter, with 50 percent supporting it and 47 percent opposing it, According to CNN exit pollsThe program found far greater support among young voters, who broke decisively for the Democrats.

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