The alleged cost of $300 billion for the Biden tuition debt forgiveness plan was challenged by the White House as too high. Then the figure went up to $500 billion. Now the respected University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business estimates that it will cost up to $1 trillion. Putting the merits of such debt forgiveness aside, the unilateral plan to waive up to a trillion dollars without congressional approval is a dangerous and unconstitutional violation of our system of the separation of powers. Those Democrats applauding this plan in Congress are celebrating their own institutional obsolescence.
The Wharton analysis of the student loan forgiveness plan found that the cost could be $1 trillion over a 10-year period.
What is so troubling is that, not only did Biden circumvention Congress with the constitutional control of the purse, but this plan has divided the nation. While supported by a majority, there is intense opposition to the plan and its costs. The polling also shows conflicting concerns and support from the public as they learn more about the plan.
A new Emerson College Polling national survey found that 36% believe the loan handout is too much and 35% believe that it is just right. Thirty percent think it is not enough. Only roughly half of the country believes it will actually help students gain access to a college education. One poll shows roughly half of the country supporting the plan while another poll shows 59% are concerned that the plan will fuel inflation. A NPR/Ipsos survey found 82% of respondents believed the government should prioritize making college more affordable over forgiving student loans.
This is precisely what congressional action is meant to address in vetting ideas and the costs of such ideas. Instead, we are scrambling to learn the costs and expected impact after it is already approved by unilateral action of the president.
The celebration of members of Congress over the circumvention of their institution is hardly news. Members like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D, Ore.) have been calling on Biden to just act unilaterally.
When Madison described the essence of his constitutional vision of the separation of powers in Federalist 51, he declared “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
No branch is supposed to have enough power to govern alone. Once power becomes concentrated in the hands of a president, citizens are left only with the assurance that such unchecked power will be used wisely – a Faustian bargain the framers repeatedly warned us never to accept.
The Madisonian vision has long been on the decline in Congress. One of the lowest points was the State of the Union address by former President Barack Obama when he announced that he intended to go it alone in achieving his policy goals, refusing to yield to the actions of Congress. One would have expected an outcry, or at least stony silence, from a branch that was being told it would be circumvented. Instead, there was rapturous applause that bordered on a collective expression of institutional self-loathing.
Now these members are applauding a president waiving a trillion dollars unilaterally because he knew that he could not get such a massive waiver from Congress. It is precisely what the Framers sought to avoid in a system of shared powers. Yet, even law professors are denouncing our constitutional system as the evil that must be attacked to achieve social justice. The embrace of such concentration of authority in a single politician is precisely what the condemned “constitutionalism” is meant to avoid.
For those who claim to be fighting for our constitutional system and democracy, this may be a good place to start.