Hey, One Of That Idiot's (Four) Executive Orders This Weekend Was Legal!

While The White House is no closer to actually negotiating with Democrats on a new coronavirus stimulus bill, Donald Trump took some time Wednesday to praise himself for his excellent work with those four executive orders he signed last weekend, including, he claimed, a deferment of student loan payments "until further notice." In typical Trump fashion, he sure was proud of his accomplishment, even if he's not entirely sure what he did. Here, have a video snippet straight from his campaign Twitter account. We like the part where he goes off on a tangent and reads the same line twice, which makes the order twice as good.

I signed a directive providing relief to student borrowers. Not their fault that they can't go to college. I will be deferring payments on student loans at zero interest until further notice, so we're gonna take care of our students. Got a lot of great students out there, and they got hit like everybody else. So I will be deferring payments on student loans at zero interest until further notice.

Couple things here. That "until further notice" doesn't actually mean "indefinitely," because the order is quite specific that the deferment will end on December 31, 2020. It could be renewed, but maybe not, if he's not reelected. Sure would be a shame if it went away.

And of course there's that weird thing where Trump seems to think this is helping out people who are currently in college but can't attend classes. (He's said it before, too, even while first announcing the orders.) Look, someone put it in front of him and he doesn't give a shit either way, so he signed it. It's sure to make him popular with the kids. So what is this thing anyway?

Hey, we should probably mention that when House Democrats passed their stimulus billback in friggin' May, it extended the CARES Act's student loan deferment a full year. You know, that bill Trump keeps insisting is full of crazy liberal stuff that's unrelated to the pandemic.

First off, unlike the other three orders Trump signed Saturday, this one is actually fairly unproblematic! The others have big issues: The order to defer payroll taxes may not be legal, and even if it is, the revenue from those taxes needs to be replaced to keep Social Security and Medicare funded. The order to partly extend emergency unemployment benefits is also only dubiously legal, will only provide about five weeks of benefits at much-reduced rates, and is a logistical clusterfuck. And the order that supposedly "extends" the CARES Act's eviction moratorium is pretty much useless by itself, calling only on federal agencies to look for ways to help renters and homeowners, but not actually barring any evictions.

By contrast, the order extending student loan deferments is pretty much a rarity in the Trump administration: It actually does something that's within a president's authority, and it will probably do the thing it's supposed to do — which is kind of limited to start with, but will definitely help people who need it, for a while.

The CARES Act allowed most borrowers with federally held student loans to defer payments with no interest until September 30. (Millions of people with private student debt, on the other hand, were and are shit out of luck.) Trump's order extends that until December 31, so of course Trump had to exaggerate its scope with that "until further notice" bullshit, which simply isn't so.

But there are still some questions about exactly how the order will work, because the order merely directs Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to "take action pursuant to applicable law" to extend the deferments, which leaves some wiggle room as to how the order is actually implemented. CNBC notes the deferment should be automatic, as with the CARES Act, but borrowers should check with their student loan servicers, repeatedly if necessary, and for Crom's sake get stuff in writing.

It also isn't clear yet whether the additional three months of paused payments will count for borrowers enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which supposedly forgives student loans for people in public service jobs like teaching or working in government once they make 10 years of payments. The CARES Act specified that its deferment would count toward those 120 months, but for this extension, the details just aren't there yet. The Education Department has a really shitty record on actually forgiving loans under that program, so maybe save the money you were thinking of blowing on champagne.

MarketWatch also points out that there's nothing in the order that specifically extends the CARES Act's moratorium on garnishing wages and seizing bank assets from borrowers whose loans are in default. If that's left up to DeVos, we're not optimistic.

Even so, Trump's bafflegab went over well on Twitter, where some idiots said the three-month extension of the student loan deferment had put him well to the left of Joe Biden, whose campaign merely calls for broadening the existing loan forgiveness program, making income-based loan repayment standards more generous, and forgiving loans after people have made 20 years of income-based payments. We'd argue that's a good start, although a more vigorous student loan cancellation proposal, like those put forward by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, would be a hell of a lot better for borrowers and the economy.

On the other hand, at least both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris know who actually has to pay for student loans, so there's that.

[CNBC / MarketWatch / Forbes / Vox / Forbes]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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