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Lee and Romney back using the Congressional Review Act to halt student loan forgiveness

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on spending, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Mariam Zuhaib
AP, pool
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on spending, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Utahns waiting for federal student loan forgiveness might have to wait a little longer. That’s because Congress could vote to roll back the program using a Clinton-era law.

Enacted in 1996, the Congressional Review Act allows Congress to pass a joint resolution to undo regulations put in place by a government agency. The loan forgiveness plan is now subject to the review act after a March 17 ruling by the Government Accountability Office.

Utah Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee signed on this week to the challenge to President Joe Biden’s $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan. Republicans have roundly criticized it after it was announced last summer as a way to “buy political support” ahead of the 2022 midterms. The program is on pause after legal challenges were heard by the Supreme Court in February.

Legal experts say it is on thin ice and will likely be ended, either by Congress or the Supreme Court when it rules on the case this summer.

“If I had to handicap it, I would say certainly over 80% odds of it being ended one way or another,” said University of Utah Associate Professor of Law Jason Iuliano. “It’s yet to be seen if they can rally the votes in Congress … the strategy might be just see what the Supreme Court does, because I think they're very, very likely to terminate the plan.”

Both of Utah’s senators have made it clear where they stand on the issue.

“[The President's] plan doesn't 'cancel' student debt; it sends a tuition bill to those who chose a different path,” Lee said in a statement. “[This resolution] will block the president from picking winners and losers and buying votes at the expense of the American taxpayer.”

Romney added that it doesn’t make sense to cancel hundreds of billions in student debt when inflation is still squeezing many Americans.

“This decision would not only be unfair to those who already repaid their loans or decided to pursue alternative education paths, but it would be wildly inflationary at a time of already historic inflation,” Romney said. “And while the president’s legal authority in forgiving this debt is dubious at best, our resolution would overturn these actions.”

Congressional Review Act resolutions aren’t subject to the same procedures normal legislation is and would only need a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass. It is still subject to presidential veto, which would then require a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers to override.

“What it really comes down to now would be [West Virginia Democratic] Sen. [Joe] Manchin,” said Iuliano. “He's come out against the student loan forgiveness plan If he ends up being the pivotal vote, he's on record being against the plan and it seems like he'd be inclined to vote in favor of pulling back that congressional authority.”

Despite the outlook of not appearing to favor a continued program, Iuliano understands the frustrations of Utahns waiting for debt forgiveness.

“Certainly, it's discouraging to people who have student loan debt and have almost in a certain sense, been toyed with for two years with all of these extensions and all these promises,” he said. “That's got to be very, very upsetting to people who have student loans and were banking on that in their budgeting.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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