For millions of Americans with federal student loan debt, the payment holiday is about to end.
Legislation to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending includes a provision that would require borrowers to begin repaying their loans again by the end of the summer after a yearslong pause imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
President Biden had already warned that the pause would end around the same time, but the legislation, if it passes in the coming days, would prevent him from issuing another last-minute extension, as he has already done several times.
The end of the pause would affect millions of Americans who have taken out federal student loans to pay for college. Across the United States, 45 million people owe $1.6 trillion for such loans — more than Americans owe for any kind of consumer debt other than mortgages.
The economic impact of the pandemic has faded since President Donald J. Trump first paused student loan payments in March 2020. Many Americans lost their jobs at the outset of the public health crisis, undercutting their ability to repay their loans on time. The number of jobs in the United States now exceeds prepandemic levels.
Promoting the debt ceiling legislation over the weekend, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on “Fox News Sunday” that it would end the pause on student loan payments “within 60 days of this being signed.”
In fact, the legislation would follow the same timeline that the Biden administration had previously outlined, ending the pause on payments on Aug. 30 at the latest.
A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Even with the pause ending, some borrowers may still see some relief if the Supreme Court allows Mr. Biden to move forward with a plan to forgive up to $20,000 in debt for some people with outstanding balances.
Mr. Biden’s plan would cancel $10,000 of federal student loan debt for those who make under $125,000 a year. People who received Pell grants for low-income families could qualify for an additional $10,000 in debt cancellation.
But the plan was challenged in court as an illegal use of executive authority, and during oral arguments in February, several justices appeared skeptical of the program. A ruling from the court could come at any time but is expected next month.
White House officials have said repeatedly that they are confident in the legality of the president’s plan. But the debate about the plan, and the broader issue of student loans, has been fierce in Congress.
Republicans have vowed to block the president’s plan if the courts do not. But they have so far failed to make good on that promise, despite repeated attempts.
Last month, House Republicans passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling that would have blocked the student debt cancellation plan and ended the temporary pause on payments. That bill was shelved after negotiations began with the White House on the debt ceiling and spending cuts.
Last week, the House passed a resolution that would use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the president’s debt cancellation plan. But the Senate has not taken up the measure, and Mr. Biden has said he would veto it.
Instead, the compromise debt ceiling legislation now under consideration by lawmakers only requires ending the pause on payments — a move that the president had already said he would make. It would not block the debt cancellation plan.
In addition, White House officials said the legislation would not deny the Biden administration the ability to pause student loan payments during a future emergency, as Republicans had sought to do.
A spokesman for the White House said the president was pleased that Republicans had failed to block his debt cancellation plan in the debt ceiling legislation.
“House Republicans weren’t able to take away a single penny of relief for the 40 million eligible borrowers, most of whom make less than $75,000 a year,” the spokesman, Abdullah Hasan, said. “The administration announced back in November that the current student loan payment pause would end this summer — this agreement makes no changes to that plan.”
Michael D. Shear is a veteran White House correspondent and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was a member of team that won the Public Service Medal for Covid coverage in 2020. He is the co-author of “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration.” @shearm
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