Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd District is among 13 being singled out
July 6, 2023
WASHINGTON — Supporters of student loan debt cancellation are organizing to hold GOP lawmakers “accountable” in the 2024 election cycle following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocking President Joe Biden’s debt relief plan.
See below for comments from U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., one of the 13 House members targeted.
The left-leaning Protect Borrowers Action will target 13 U.S. House districts across California, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania where Republicans opposed Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 for roughly 40 million qualifying student loan borrowers.
On Friday, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the conservative majority, ruled that a loan servicer in Missouri, the Higher Education Loan Authority, known as MOHELA, would have its revenue threatened by the debt relief.
The justices unanimously decided that a second case challenging the debt relief plan did not have legal standing.
About 26 million borrowers had already applied for the program, and more than 16 million had been approved for relief, according to the Department of Education.
“I think we need to definitely take stock of just how crushing the Supreme Court ruling was, and it really is evidence that this court has just completely lost its legitimacy. But at the same time, you know, there were members of Congress working tirelessly to ensure that their own constituents would be blocked from life-changing relief,” said Aissa Canchola Banez, the group’s political director.
Amicus brief, House votes
The 13 U.S. House lawmakers targeted by the group co-signed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule against the debt cancellation and voted in favor of legislation blocking the president’s program.
The lawmakers, picked because they hold what the organization says are vulnerable seats, also voted in favor of the GOP’s original but unsuccessful debt ceiling bill that included a provision to nullify the loan forgiveness program as a way to cut spending.
The following month they supported a joint resolution disapproving of the student loan debt cancellation plan. The resolution passed the House in a 218-203 vote, with two Democrats — Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington — voting in favor.
The measure cleared the Senate in early June in a 52-46 vote, with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin IIl of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, as well as independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, on board.
Lawmakers in favor of revoking the student debt plan pointed to its cost, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates could reach about $400 billion.
Biden vetoed the legislation.
Protect Borrowers Action organizers plan to reach voters through social media and partnerships with community-based organizations that mobilize local residents.
The group’s fundraising goal is $2 million, with some already raised according to the organization, though an amount was not specified. The organization identifies itself as a fiscally sponsored project of Fund for a Better Future Inc., a 501(c)(4).
Republicans head into next year’s election with a 222-212 majority.
District fact sheets
On Thursday, the campaign released fact sheets for the targeted lawmakers listing the number of student loan borrowers in each district and how many were eligible and approved for debt relief under Biden’s plan.
Those lawmakers fought to keep their constituents in a “financially harmful position,” Canchola Banez said.
“Folks deserve to be heard and deserve to be able to hold their members of Congress accountable for that,” Canchola Banez added. “That’s why this project is so important and why we see this issue of student debt so critical to the fight to center dignity for working people and make sure the economy works for everybody, not just those rich and privileged few.”
The targeted lawmakers include:
Kevin Kiley, 3rd District
Mike Garcia, 27th District
Ken Calvert, 41st District
Michelle Steel, 45th District
Lauren Boebert, 3rd District
John James, 10th District
Don Bacon, 2nd District
Nick LaLota, 1st District
Anthony D’Esposito, 4th District
Mike Lawler, 17th District
Brandon Williams, 22nd District
Lori Chavez-DeRemer 5th District
Scott Perry, 10th District
Biden announced his one-time student loan debt relief program in August 2022. The plan would have made borrowers who earned up to $125,000, or $250,000 for married couples, eligible for up to $10,000 in forgiveness, and up to $20,000 if the individual received a federal Pell Grant for higher education costs.
The plan was criticized by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget as “expensive, inflationary and poorly targeted.”
The committee hailed the Supreme Court decision, saying it “resolves nearly a year of legal ambiguity for borrowers, but with only a couple of months remaining before the three-year payment pause comes to an end. The Administration and Department of Education should focus their efforts on helping borrowers resume payments in an orderly manner. Too much time has been wasted on empty promises, and not enough time has been spent on making sure borrowers are prepared to begin making payments again.”
The White House lambasted the decision and announced what it called new actions to provide debt relief for student loan borrowers, including its Saving on a Valuable Education, or SAVE, plan, which the administration says will cut payments for low earners.
Congressman Bacon responds
U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said Thursday that President Biden was “out of line” in his initial student loan plan for trying to appropriate funds without congressional approval.
“I think the Constitution is clear. Congress holds the pursestrings,” he told the Nebraska Examiner.
Bacon on Thursday signed on to a proposed House Republican solution to the student loan issue: the Federal Assistance to Initiate Repayment (FAIR) Act.
The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Burgess Owens of Utah, Lisa McClain of Michigan and Virginia Foxx of Virginia, is designed to allow student borrowers to access affordable and burden-free repayment options.
Prior to students beginning repayment, under the proposed legislation, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona would need to make “at least 12 notifications,” including options for repayment, the deadline and more. The bill would also create an income-driven repayment plan, allowing automatic payments set at 10% of borrowers’ discretionary income.
Bacon said people should be held responsible for their borrowing decisions but said he realizes some people have dug themselves a “big budget hole.” An important step, he said, is providing a way toward competitive interest rates and a pathway to catch up once people are behind, which he believes the FAIR Act accomplishes.
Bacon added that Democrats may be “barking up the wrong tree” among voters and pointed to spending under the Biden administration.
“It’s sort of like throwing money out like it’s a confetti party, New York Time Square,” Bacon said. “People are tired of it.”
When asked about Protect Borrowers Action, Bacon said he does not take for granted the 50-50 Republican-to-Democrat split of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. He said he has a good foundation to run on and would continue to be pragmatic and cross the aisle.
State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, a Democrat, announced this week he will seek a rematch with Bacon for the 2nd District seat. Bacon beat Vargas by about 6,000 votes last year.
Vargas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
— By Nebraska Examiner intern Zach Wendling