SSN Commentary

History Says Student Loan Debt Relief Isn’t Un-American

Policy field

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Northwestern University

Originally published with Emily Zackin in The Washington Post on June 30, 2023.

On Friday the Supreme Court ruled that the Biden administration’s plan for student loan debt relief exceeded its statutory authority. In addition to the legal challenges the plan faced, prominent Republicans — who cheered the ruling — have argued that the concept of student debt relief runs counter to our country’s deepest commitments. As Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, for example, we should not require taxpayers to “pay off $300 billion of other people’s debts … It’s un-American.”

But history reveals that such claims are false. For much of the country’s history, Americans have pressed their governments for relief from debts — and often, legislators granted it. This long tradition suggests that today’s ruling won’t put an end to the debate over debt relief, and the activism associated with it may yet pave the way for new protective policies.