Rep. Ted Budd is accusing the White House of stacking the Education Department with politically motivated activist lawyers ahead of an ambitious reshaping of student loan cancellation rules.
Mr. Budd, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter Wednesday to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona castigating the department’s choice for a new deputy general counsel.
The North Carolina Republican, who is running for the U.S. Senate, argued that the decision to name Toby Merrill, the former director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, was troubling given her views on student debt forgiveness.
“Ms. Merrill [has] argued explicitly that Congress “granted the Secretary [of Education] a more specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs,” Mr. Budd wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained exclusively by The Washington Times.
Mr. Budd added that the Constitution, existing legal statute and even the Education Department’s general counsel have found no such “unilateral authority” exists.
“The law is clear: the Department does not have the legal authority to cancel student loan debt en masse,” he wrote. “Any deviation from Congress’s clear intention for student loan balances to be repaid, with limited and specific exceptions, would be of grave concern.”
Ms. Merill’s appointment comes as President Biden has ordered an extensive federal review of his authority to cancel student debt through executive action.
As part of the process, the Education Department’s legal team is scouring avenues through which Mr. Biden’s authority could be expanded and eventually defended when challenged by the courts.
Mr. Budd says that the appointment of an activist lawyer like Ms. Merrill indicates the White House is signaling which way it wants the review to go.
“Mass cancellation of student loan debt would not only be a clear violation of the separation of powers but would also be an affront to the millions of borrowers who responsibly repaid their loan balances,” he wrote. “I ask for your commitment that you will not seek to usurp the will of the people and the authority Congress has delegated in canceling student debt beyond what the law clearly allows.”
Neither the White House or the Education Department responded to requests for comment.
Mr. Biden’s review of student loan forgiveness rules was initiated after a widespread pressure campaign by far-left Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Mrs. Warren, in particular, has urged the White House to unilaterally cancel as much as $50,000 in student loan debt for every single one of the nation’s more than 43 million borrowers.
“Tick tock, tick tock, Mr. President,” said Mrs. Warren. “Millions of Americans ask you now to pick up a pen and cancel student loan debt … to pick up a pen and make their lives better.”
While Mr. Biden has demurred, choosing instead a targeted approach to student loan cancellation.
Since taking office, the White House has canceled nearly $10 billion in student loans, prioritizing borrowers with disabilities and individuals “misled or defrauded” by institutions of higher learning.