February 18, 2021 6:55 am
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biden disappoints liberals on minimum wage hike and student loan forgiveness

The White House and left-wing Democrats are likely heading for blows after President Biden appeared to close the door on several of their top demands, threatening to splinter the party.

The president used his first town hall in office to pour cold water on the liberals’ calls for $50,000 worth of student loan relief per person and also took a step away from them as he signaled he is open to negotiating a minimum wage hike to a point less than their preferred $15 per hour. His comments put the two long-standing demands from progressive lawmakers and activists in jeopardy.

Biden has backed a measure to relieve $10,000 worth of student loans per person. That’s a fraction of the $50,000 threshold hard-left lawmakers and activists are pushing for.

“I will not make that happen,” Biden said Tuesday at the CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, of the higher figure.

Activists say Biden’s education secretary, once confirmed, can use the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cancel student loans backed by the agency by releasing its claim on the debt and writing down the amount owed.

During the town hall, Biden said he feared a blanket policy that would erase student loan debt for Ivy League graduates. The former vice president and 36-year senator also suggested a trade-off between debt forgiveness and spending for early childhood education. Biden also said he didn’t think he had the authority “to do it by signing the pen.”

Prominent liberal senators pushed back on Biden’s position Wednesday.

“Presidents Obama and Trump used their executive authority to cancel student loan debt,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement. “The Biden administration has said it is reviewing options for canceling up to $50,000 in student debt by executive action, and we are confident they will agree with the standards Obama and Trump used as well as leading legal experts who have concluded that the administration has broad authority to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans.”

Warren said later that anyone who wants $50,000 of their student loan debt forgiven should reach out to Biden on the issue.

“If we could persuade the president, we can do this real fast,” Warren said.

In a blow to liberals, press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden still opposes a $50,000 write-off “without limitation” but suggested some flexibility on the number.

She said that Biden was awaiting a review from his Domestic Policy Council “on how executive action debt relief, if any, should be targeted.”

Biden is also backing away from his administration’s plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, part of its $1.9 trillion coronavirus package. But at the town hall, Biden suggested a minimum wage increase could occur in stages, beginning with a $12 or $13 an hour rate by 2025, a departure from his American Rescue Plan.

“I do support a $15 minimum wage,” Biden said, noting that he believes the measure would help workers without hurting business. “But that’s a debatable issue.”

Biden suggested in an interview earlier this month with CBS News that a $15 federal minimum wage may not occur “because of the rules of the United States Senate,” a nod to Senate budgetary procedures Democrats plan to use for the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan. Under the so-called reconciliation process, Democrats would be able to push through the proposal in the split 50-50 Senate along a party-line vote, plus the support of Vice President Kamala Harris. The process would circumvent a Senate filibuster, which effectively requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass.

Anyway, it’s not clear there’s enough Democratic support to get it that far. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they don’t support the minimum wage increase. Ten more Senate Democrats have not signed on to a bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders calling for the $15 an hour increase by 2025.

Psaki said Wednesday that while the president supports a $15 minimum wage and included it in the relief plan, “it may not look the same way when it comes out of the sausage-making machine.”

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