Multiple news outlets are reporting that the Biden administration will announce a fifth extension of the federal student loan repayment pause that began in March 2020 shortly, with this extension going through the end of August 2022. This news doesn’t seem to make anyone truly happy, with borrower advocates and many progressives advocating for an extension through the end of 2022 and/or outright student debt forgiveness. On the right, conservatives are unhappy with continuing to kick the repayment can down the road when the economy is strong and a sizable share of borrowers could resume repayment (with or without income-driven repayment).
At this point, it seems more likely than not to me that the Biden administration will not resume student loan repayment during its time in office. There is almost no chance that the administration will restart payments in August as Democrats face a challenging midterm election and need every vote that they can get from their base and younger voters. Then 2023 starts the next presidential election cycle. If Biden and/or Harris want to run for office, resuming payments is a terrible way to position themselves in a Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, Republicans are stewing. Rep. Virginia Foxx, ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, had this to say (h/t Michael Stratford of Politico):
If Republicans take control of Congress in the November elections, I fully expect a serious effort to stop issuing federal student loans framed around statements like that from Rep. Foxx. 2023 is a great time for Republicans to make this play, as somewhere between ten and 250 Republicans in the House and Senate seem likely to run for president in 2024 and this is great messaging in a GOP primary. Additionally, a certain Biden veto makes this a vote with no real consequences, allowing people to vote yes without cutting off access to federal loans. There is a realistic chance that legislation would pass Congress while not becoming law.
Fast forward to 2025. If Republicans take control of the White House along with Congress, then they have to either put up or shut up about this issue. On health care, Republicans largely shut up because they could not agree on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The same may well happen about federal student loans, with a few moderate Republicans stopping passage to protect students and/or their own political careers in swing districts. Possible replacements include education savings accounts, income share agreements (a la Jeb Bush), or simply turning the issue over to colleges and states to figure out.
Do I think that Republicans will end federal student loans? Probably not, but I also didn’t expect payments to still be paused in April 2022 when I first suggested a pause on March 18, 2020. The more likely outcome is efforts to limit graduate and professional student borrowing to reduce the federal loan portfolio without affecting the most vulnerable undergraduates.