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House Republicans: Up the Ante in the Student Loan Poker Game

William L. Kovacs

July 2023

House Republicans: Up the Ante in the Student Loan Poker Game

Within hours after the U.S. Supreme Court held Biden’s student loan forgiveness program unconstitutional, the Biden administration issued an already prepared Plan B that would serve the same loan forgiveness purpose as his unconstitutional Plan A. The substantive change from Plan A to Plan B was merely relying on a different statute, the Higher Education Act of 1965, rather than the HEROES Act, an emergency act passed during the pandemic. The administration boasts Plan B is the most affordable repayment plan in history. Moreover, in customary high schoolish swagger, Biden states he, Harris, and Cardona will not stop fighting for borrowers.

The timing is proof that Biden knew all along that his loan forgiveness program was unconstitutional. The timing also revealed that Biden is playing a poker game. He is betting that he can buy the votes of the 38.6 million students wanting someone other than themselves to pay off their debt. The House Republicans need to raise the stakes by informing the president that if he persists with his unconstitutional actions, the House will refuse to fund the entire Department of Education.

So far, however, the Republican House members complain on Fox News about Biden’s unconstitutional acts but look like the proverbial deer in the headlights when it comes to action. Indecision gives Biden the advantage since the student debtors, with little understanding of the Constitution, view him as their champion.

Biden’s bravado gives the House Republicans the opportunity to address one of their top election issues, the nation’s failing education system. By calling Biden’s bluff, Republicans will reestablish that only Congress has the power to appropriate money, not the Executive branch. All the House needs do is to refuse to appropriate any money for the Department of Education.

This big bet puts all the chips on the table, debt forgiveness vs. defunding the Department of Education. It will be one of the few times in history that one House of Congress effectively limited the powers of the Executive without having to pass a law. House Republicans have the power to spend or not spend money. The Constitution is clear, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law….” Spending money requires the agreement of both Houses of Congress. If One House refuses to spend money, then money cannot be spent. One House of Congress that says “No” to spending cuts off the money for Executive activities.

A refusal to spend money on the Department of Education allows a majority of one House of Congress to the power shrink the federal government without the difficulty of passing a new law.

Biden has placed the Department of Education at the center of the loan forgiveness conflict. It is Biden’s most prized possession since it is owned and operated by his most significant political supporters, the teachers’ unions. The teachers’ unions donated $43 million to liberal groups in the 2020 election cycle. The possibility of Biden losing his key supporters’ most valuable asset will likely persuade him to drop his unconstitutional nonsense that the Executive has the power to appropriate money.

The Department of Education has a $ 96 billion discretionary budget. It is the third largest of all Executive departments, behind Defense and Health and Human Services. Since its creation, the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars on an educational bureaucracy that has made little or no impact on education. The most recent  National Assessment of Education Progress report card found the biggest drop in test scores in its thirty-year history of the test.

There are many examples of the Department of Education’s 42 years of failure.

  1. The Programme for International Student Assessment (“PISA”) found that among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 18th in science.
  2. The same PISA study found that U.S. millennials in the workforce were tied for last on mathematics and problem-solving tests among the millennials in all the industrial countries tested.
  3. In 2022, the average total SAT score was 1050, the lowest since the test changed format in 2016.

It is very unlikely that Congress could get the votes to abolish this failed agency in the normal budget process. In the present situation, however, Biden’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court’s ruling gives the House the justification it needs to defend the Constitution by permanently limiting Biden’s unconstitutional spending.

By playing poker to win, the Republican House may save the country’s educational system from an education department whose loyalty is to the Teachers Union that ensures a failed educational system.

This article was first published in The Thinking Conservative.

William L. Kovacs has served as senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chief counsel to a congressional committee, and a partner in law D.C. law firms. His book Reform the Kakistocracy is the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. He can be contacted at [email protected]