Supreme Court 'Skeptical' Of Student Debt Relief, If You Can Believe That!
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in two cases challenging President Joe Biden's student debt relief plan, and dear readers, we hope you are sitting down for this: The Court's rightwing majority didn't sound very open to the idea that the administration has the authority to forgive student loans, even under the 2003 law that the administration says is designed to allow exactly that. We won't know for sure until the Court rules in the case, probably in June.
If there's any chance for the policy to escape being overturned, it probably hinges on whether the Court decides that the plaintiffs in the two cases have standing to sue at all. If the Court decides they don't, then it won't address the legality of the program either way.
Of course, this being the Alito Court, it's also possible the Supremes will just make shit up and decide that even if the plaintiffs lack standing, some obscure principle pulled from Brett Kavanaugh's beer cooler — if you know what we mean and we're not sure we do — makes it OK to address the merits of the case anyway.
Under the Biden plan, borrowers could have up to $10,000 of federal student debt forgiven; borrowers who received Pell Grants for low income families qualified for up to $20,000 in debt cancelled. The vast majority of debt relief was targeted at middle and lower-income borrowers.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that the 2003 HEROES Act gives the Education Department all the authority it needs to make changes to student loan programs in a time of national emergency, since the law says the Education secretary has power to "waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision" to keep borrowers from being wiped out financially during "a war or other military operation or national emergency." And here we are, in a public health emergency so severe that most federal student loan payments have already been put on hold for almost three years.
Justice Elena Kagan agreed, saying that "Congress could not have made this much more clear," and saying that compared to a lot of other cases, this was a slam dunk: "We deal with congressional statutes every day that are really confusing. This one is not."
But of course nothing is clear if you don't want it to be, so Chief Justice John Roberts kept insisting that whatever the plain text of the HEROES Act says, the total estimated cost of the debt relief program — about $400 billion over the next decade — was so big that it would need a specific extra double supersecret authorization from Congress, because of the "major questions doctrine" the Court pulled out of its ass in earlier cases under Roberts. To help make his point, Roberts repeatedly rounded that cost up by another hundred billion dollars, calling it a "half trillion dollar" program again and again.
Prelogar pointed out that the Education secretaries under both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have already used their authority under the HEROES Act to put federal student loans in forbearance, with no interest accruing, since March of 2020. Pausing loan payments, she said, means the federal government has lost roughly $100 billion a year, according to the Government Accountability Office.
"That has been an economically significant program,” Ms. Prelogar said of the pause. “It’s currently costing the federal government more per year than this loan forgiveness plan would cost the government annually.
What's more, Prelogar said, ending that pause without also relieving debt would mean that scads of borrowers would default on their loans altogether, which could result in a shock to the economy at large. She didn't even get into the fact that if hundreds of thousands of people default, that's going to cost the federal government a lot, plus the knock-on effects of those people being ruined financially.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor echoed that argument, pointing out that the stakes for low-income borrowers could be pretty darn catastrophic:
There’s 50 million students who are – who will benefit from this. Who today will struggle. Many of them don’t have assets sufficient to bail them out after the pandemic. They don’t have friends or families or others who can help them make these payments. [...]
And what you’re saying is now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them instead of the person with the expertise and the experience, the secretary of Education who’s been dealing with educational issues and the problems surrounding student loans.
We thought it was a pretty good argument, but then we're liberal simps who think the government is there to help people, so we don't count.
The question of whether the challengers to the policy have standing may be the best hope for the loan forgiveness program, since some of the rightwing justices seemed more skeptical of their claims that they'll be harmed by student debt relief. We'll just go with the CNN summary here:
In Biden v. Nebraska, a group of Republican-led states argued the administration exceeded its authority by using the pandemic as a pretext to mask the true goal of fulfilling a campaign promise to erase student loan debt.
The second case is Department of Education v. Brown, which was initially brought by two individuals who did not qualify for the full benefits of the forgiveness program and argue the government failed to follow the proper rulemaking process when putting it in place.
In the case involving the states, much of the argument involved how many angels can dance on the head of Missouri's nonprofit agency what processes student loans, the "Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority," aka MOHELA. It was set up to insulate the state itself from having to process loans, but the state is arguing that, for the purpose of standing, it may as well be the state.
But as Justice Kagan pointed out, MOHELA is a legally separate entity, and it didn't choose to sue:
“Usually we don’t allow one person to step into another’s shoes and say, ‘I think that that person suffered a harm,’ even if the harm is very great,” she said.
If Missouri really controlled the loan authority, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked James A. Campbell, Nebraska’s solicitor general, who represented the states, “why didn’t the state just make MOHELA come then?”
Campbell explained that was "a question of state politics," which sounds to us like some bullshit, although we are not a lawyer.
Prelogar hammered on that point, saying that MOHELA would definitely have standing if it had sued, but it hadn't, now had it? Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson chimed in too, saying that MOHELA's
financial interests are totally disentangled from the state, it stands alone, it’s incorporated separately, the state is not liable for anything that happens to MOHELA. [...] I don’t know how that could possibly be a reason to say that an injury to MOHELA should count as an injury to the state.
In the other case, the plaintiffs argued that the program isn't fair, because their own loans don't qualify for forgiveness. One plaintiff, Myra Brown, has private student loans that aren't held by the government, and the other, Alexander Taylor, only qualifies for $10,000 in loan relief because he didn't get a Pell grant in college, so his case claims he was cheated out of $10K in debt relief.
No, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense that they think the solution to their woes is to eliminate all debt relief for 40 million other people. But there we go, thinking like a blogger instead of a Supreme Court justice. The New York Times notes that
Justices across the ideological spectrum seemed unpersuaded by the borrowers’ position.
“Talk about ways in which courts can interfere with the processes of government through two individuals in one state who don’t like the program can seek and obtain a universal relief barring it for anybody anywhere,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said.
Even so, some justices were really excited about the supposed "unfairness" of targeting debt relief to people who had the most to lose, and not to everyone who might conceivably get help. Roberts even wondered why it would be fair to relieve debt for student loans during the pandemic but not for, say a loan taken out by a hypothetical owner of a lawn care business.
Sotomayor had a pretty quick reply to that, pointing out that "everybody suffered in the pandemic, but different people got different benefits because they qualified under different programs." Hello, PPP loans, for freaking instance (this is us cheerleading, not Sotomayor). (Also, your Wonkette got a PPP loan, and it was forgiven, which is the first time we've ever been part of the "so rich the government gives you money" crew.)
Justice Kagan reminded Roberts that the case is actually about student loans, not anything else, mister strict constructionist:
Congress passed a statute that dealt with loan repayment for colleges, and it didn’t pass a statute that dealt with loan repayment for lawn businesses... [Us, butting in again: PPP loans! We already said PPP loans, Elena.] And so Congress made a choice, and that may have been the right choice or it may have been the wrong choice, but that’s Congress’s choice.
The Court will rule in June, and even if the debt forgiveness program is thrown out, many borrowers should at least be able to get some relief under the Biden administrations' revamped income-based repayment program, which everyone with federal student loans should at least look into.
DO THIS NOW!
Did Joe Biden Just Fix Student Loan Debt Going Forward? Mayyyyybe!
I Got My Student Loans Ready For Joe Biden's Big Income-Based Forgive-A-Thon And You Should Too
Until of course conservative states and the SCOTUS fuck that over too, the end.
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What Good Arguments Will Supreme Court Ignore In Student Debt Relief Case?
Maybe they'll be persuaded by logic and reason. Maybe monkeys will fly out of Alito's butt.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on the Biden administration's plan to relieve student loan debt by up to $20,000 per borrower. If you want to listen live, audio will be streaming at 10 Eastern. Joe Biden proposed the plan back in August, and various rightwing legal groups immediately went to work finding plaintiffs to sue to stop it, which turned out to be a challenge because to have standing, a plaintiff would have to prove they'd been harmed by a good thing. Eventually, they got lower federal courts to block the program. As a result, not a penny of student debt has yet been forgiven, even for the roughly 16 million folks the Education Department has already approved for debt forgiveness, or for the 10 million other borrowers waiting to have their applications processed.
Under the Biden plan, borrowers could have up to $10,000 of student debt forgiven if they had annual income less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for married folks filing jointly). People who received Pell Grants in college would have up to $20,000 in debt cancelled. The loan forgiveness would be tax free, and 90 percent of the debt relief would go to borrowers making $75,000 a year or less. The proposal was solidly targeted at middle and lower-income borrowers, and what with the $20K in relief for Pell grant recipients, would eliminate student debt for about half of borrowers.
And who knows, maybe the Supremes will decide the program can go forward once it decides the case. We like nice surprises!
Here's Joe Biden To Tell You How He'll Cancel Assloads Of Student Debt!
Joe Biden CANCEL CULTURES Student Debt! So How Do You Get You Some Of That?
Joe Biden Asks Supreme Court To Let Him Forgive Student Loans, If That's Not Too Much Trouble
Joe Biden Ready To Cancel Supreme Court's College Loans Or Something
In a brief filed in January, the Biden administration outlined its legal strategy in appealing two cases brought by opponents of the law. The administration will argue that it has the authority to forgive student debt under the 2003 HEROES Act, which enables the Education Department to waive student debt obligations during times of national emergency. And hey, we have us a national emergency, what with the COVID pandemic and the resulting economic disruption.
Federal student loan payments (for most borrowers) have been in a moratorium since March 2020, and the administration also argues that requiring people to start paying loans again all at once could lead to a financial emergency if some of that debt isn't relieved, noting that
ending that pause without providing some additional relief for lower-income borrowers would cause delinquency and default rates to spike above pre-pandemic levels. This Court should not compel that damaging and destabilizing result.
Given that the Supremes have demonstrated they don't give a community college rat's ass about the real-world consequences of their decisions on abortion and guns, only on the imaginary views of the Founders, that argument may carry less weight.
The plaintiffs in the case include a group of six Republican-led states that sued to overturn program, arguing that debt relief will deprive them of revenue. That lawsuit was combined with a second case filed by a rightwing group on behalf of two borrowers who didn't qualify for the program, and are arguing that this food is terrible — and such small portions! Here's a summary from the Associated Press:
A lower court dismissed the lawsuit involving the following states: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina. The court said the states could not challenge the program because they weren’t harmed by it. But a panel of three federal appeals court judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit — all of them appointed by Republican presidents — put the program on hold during an appeal. The Supreme Court then agreed to weigh in.
The students’ case involves Myra Brown, who is ineligible for debt relief because her loans are commercially held, and Alexander Taylor, who is eligible for just $10,000 and not the full $20,000 because he didn’t receive a Pell grant. They say that the Biden administration didn’t go through the proper process in enacting the plan, among other things.
Texas-based U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, an appointee of President Donald Trump, sided with the students and ruled to block the program. Pittman ruled that the Biden administration did not have clear authorization from Congress to implement the program. A federal appeals court left Pittman’s ruling in place, and the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case along with the states’ challenge.
The main questions that are likely to come up will involve two main areas: Do the plaintiffs actually have standing to sue at all — that is, can they show they've actually been harmed? And then the other big deal question is whether the HEROES Act actually does allow the administration to forgive debts.
Here's the PBS NewsHour linky for you to listen to the arguments, if you dare.
[AP / Biden V. Nebraska brief]
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Bret Stephens: Masks Don't Work, Says Science* (*Science Does Not Say This)
Another winner from the New York Times.
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens might've finally (sort of) given up climate denial, but now he's moved on to advancing mask denial. He declares on that stellar op-ed page, "The Mask Mandates Did Nothing. Will Any Lessons Will Be Learned?"
Hold on there, slick. You're assuming a lot of facts in clear disregard of the evidence. A 2021 study in Germany showed that requiring people to wear face masks decreased the daily growth rate of reported COVID-19 cases by more than 40 percent. Widespread mask wearing, as well as social distancing, also led to a sharp drop in flu cases in 2020.
Stephens quotes Tom Jefferson, an Oxford epidemiologist who conducted an analysis of studies about the efficacy of masks for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses.
"There is just no evidence that they” — masks — “make any difference,” he told the journalist Maryanne Demasi. “Full stop.”
But, wait, hold on. What about N-95 masks, as opposed to lower-quality surgical or cloth masks?
“Makes no difference — none of it,” said Jefferson.
That's weird. It's an opinion that seems to discount basic germ theory. It's why doctors wear masks during surgery.
Bret Stephens And David Brooks Had A Pity Party, And Nobody Else Came
'New York Times' Thought We Needed To Read Bret Stephens Whitesplaining Hate Crimes To Asian Americans
\u201c@drlucymcbride @nytopinion This column and headline are lies motivated by anti-science, right wing ideology. See the reader's critiques.\u201d— Lucy McBride, MD (@Lucy McBride, MD) 1677029471
What the study actually says, though, is that mask wearing during the pandemic was not as effective because people didn't wear them properly or consistently. Times readers were quick to point this out in the comments. If parents strapped children upside down into car seats, this would not actually prove that car seats don't work. It just means people are stupid.
There was also a significant anti-mask backlash. Assholes grudgingly wearing a mask under their nose so they can enter a grocery store won't contribute to great results about overall mask use. The more reasonable interpretation from Jefferson's study is that people acting like stupid assholes during a global pandemic is not great for public health.
However, Stephens insists:
But when it comes to the population-level benefits of masking, the verdict is in: Mask mandates were a bust. Those skeptics who were furiously mocked as cranks and occasionally censored as “misinformers” for opposing mandates were right. The mainstream experts and pundits who supported mandates were wrong. In a better world, it would behoove the latter group to acknowledge their error, along with its considerable physical, psychological, pedagogical and political costs.
No, the "cranks" weren't right. They selfishly refused to wear a mask during a global pandemic that was killing people. Stephens is also cherry-picking studies and promoting right-wing dogma about how wearing a mask somehow unleashed mass depression on the population and tortured schoolchildren.
Early studies consistently showed that "countries (mostly Asian) that made mask-wearing mandatory within 30 days of the first case emerging had dramatically fewer COVID-19 cases than those (mostly western) that delayed beyond 100 days." Stephens, like many who opposed mask mandates, exaggerates "speculative harms" from mask wearing, specifically that people would never use them correctly so why bother? Note, though, that you probably fasten your seatbelt correctly and almost unconsciously. This is arguably because wearing one has been legally mandated for so long. The active mask resistance created a self-fulfilling prophecy where Americans never collectively learned to wear them correctly.
Here's Ivy League-educated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a losing battle with a mask. No wonder he swore revenge against them.
\u201cAnd here\u2019s Florida Governor Ron DeSantis putting on his mask...\u201d— Rex Chapman\ud83c\udfc7\ud83c\udffc (@Rex Chapman\ud83c\udfc7\ud83c\udffc) 1587168227
Stephens drags the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its director Rochelle Walensky, who he thinks should resign in disgrace. I guess I do agree with him that the CDC's major failing has been underestimating American obstinance regarding public health measures.
Yet there was never a chance that mask mandates in the United States would get anywhere close to 100 percent compliance, or that people would or could wear masks in a way that would meaningfully reduce transmission. Part of the reason is specific to American habits and culture; part of it to constitutional limits on government power; part of it to human nature; part of it to competing social and economic necessities; part of it to the evolution of the virus itself.
This is the all-or-nothing position that itself is inherently unscientific. You don't need 100 percent compliance to save lives. Seatbelt use increased over the past 40 years from just 13 percent in 1983 to 90 percent in 2021.
Someone who argued in the late 1980s that seatbelt laws are "a bust" would've perversely twisted the data and compromised public safety, just as Stephens is doing now.
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Defending Your Candidacy
It's your Nikki Haley Sunday show rundown!
If Nikki Haley announced she was running for president in the woods, would anyone hear it?
That's a trick question: Haley announced publicly she was running for president, and it still seems no one heard it. While Politico and Haley herself have been trying to will it into existence, her appearance on "Fox News Sunday" with Shannon Bream is a great indication it's already not going well.
Bream began the interview, much like administering the Voight-Kampff Test for replicants, by setting a baseline at how "President Haley" would handle China's President Xi. But even at this baseline, Haley seemed to flounder.
HALEY: Not the way President Biden is handling it, I'll tell you that. There's nothing wrong with talking to China. The problem is what we say to them. [...]
Haley continued the Republican obsession with the Chinese balloons while never actually answering what she would do differently, outside of the usual old conservative talking points about "Democrats are weak." She did, in the middle of her China rant, squeeze in a COVID-19 dog whistle.
HALEY: [...] They are lying about the balloon the same way they've lied about Covid. [...]
Haley will contort herself to cater to the crazy side of the Republican Party because she has no actual core beliefs. She wasn't some brave new Republican in 2015, as Mitt Romney's old consultants believe, but she was playing to what she believed voters wanted THEN. 2023 Nikki Haley would not only never lower the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state Capitol, she would probably declare a Confederate Memorial Month to push back against "cancel culture." Hell, the 2010 version of Haley was already there, thus proving that Haley will always take the path of least resistance.
\u201cIn 2010, Nikki Haley was interviewed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans ab her feelings on the confederate flag. This rare clip shows a different side of Haley than most know. She defends the flag, insists it isnt racist, and that she\u2019d even support a Confederate Memorial Month.\u201d— Tyler Jones (@Tyler Jones) 1676390744
It's this inherent cowardice that also prevents Haley from answering the most basic question of any candidate for any office.
BREAM: [...]Why you versus anybody else in the GOP field? You know they [Wall Street Journal] are talking about the fact you say "America First," "America should be powerful"... those are things that any GOP candidate is going to say. So...why YOU?
HALEY: Why not me?
Haley then proceeded to read out her very underwhelming stump speech.
HALEY: I am the wife of a combat veteran. I'm a mother of two children, one who's getting married, and I see how hard it is for her to look at buying a home. One that's in college, I see what he's dealing with "woke education." You know, I'm the daughter of immigrant parents who are upset by what is happening in the border. I don't want to wait for someone else to fix this. I want to make sure we get in there and fix this. I'm not a lawyer, I'm an accountant. I've never worked in DC, and I think it's time that we start putting a fire under what's happening in Congress. [...]
So basically, Haley is 2015 Marco Rubio. Similar sales pitch, similar lack of charisma and similar inability to even point out what makes them uniquely qualified. Except for faux fears the daughter of a prominent politician won't get a big enough home on Kiawah Island or her son's dreaded "woke education," it is reheated Republican leftovers in a "new generation" package. Haley was also Trump's U.N. Ambassador, so this idea she's "never worked in Washington" is absurd.
Haley continued by bringing up the old term limits talking point that Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract
On With America" Republican Party tried before most of those same Republicans ignored it when it was THEIR turn for re-election. This includes Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and most recently Ted Cruz. (BTW, if you find yourself pitching a Ted Cruz plan, go back to the drawing board)
\u201cSen. Ted Cruz has introduced a bill that would limit senators to two terms. When asked why he isn't holding himself to that standard, Cruz, who says he's running for a third term, said, "If and when it passes, I'll happily...comply. I never said I'm going to unilaterally comply."\u201d— Face The Nation (@Face The Nation) 1675780412
But Haley's most ingenious plan to win the nomination is a loophole she hopes could eliminate her opponents rather than defeat them electorally or ideologically.
HALEY: [...] I think we need mental competency tests for people over the age of seventy-five. [...]
While this seems like a dig at President Biden, the man who is simultaneously a doddering old man and a genius who walked them into an entitlements trap during the last State of the Union address, it seems to also conveniently eliminate the former "Man-Person-Woman-Camera-TV" candidate himself. Which would be perfect, because it seems that Haley wants none of that heat while Donald Trump has no problem describing Haley's chances on his Truth Social account.
When your candidacy looks to have the same longevity as room temperature skim milk out on sunny day, maybe those competency tests aren't going to save you — much less get you out of a Republican primary.
At this point, a corporeal Albert Brooks could defend his candidacy (and misjudgments) better than Nikki Haley.
Have a week.
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