BUSINESS LOBBY, GOP OFFICIALS URGE SCOTUS TO REJECT STUDENT DEBT RELIEF: A range of conservative groups and Republican officials are lining up to urge the Supreme Court to nullify President Joe Biden’s debt relief plan. The slew of amicus briefs poured into the court on Friday as the justices prepared to hear oral arguments later this month in two cases challenging Biden’s loan forgiveness program.
— Chamber of Commerce: The nation’s major business lobbying group argued in its brief that Biden’s student debt relief plan is a “significant exercise of the power of the purse” that should be decided by Congress, not the executive branch. The group said that the Supreme Court should use the case to “reinforce” its recent landmark ruling that curtailed the power of administrative agencies.
—Former secretaries: A group of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s Republican predecessors told the Supreme Court that he’s got it wrong when it comes to his power to erase debt under the HEROES Act. The law, they argue, is meant to allow the Education Department to “waive or modify” the traditional rules governing student loans to help borrowers harmed by a national emergency — not “craft an entirely new program from whole cloth.”
The brief was signed by the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies and former secretaries of education Betsy DeVos, Margaret Spellings, Rod Paige, Lamar Alexander, and Bill Bennett.
— Republican authors of the HEROES Act: The top GOP lawmakers involved in passing the law that the Biden administration is invoking to cancel debt say Congress never intended that result. In a brief led by the Pacific Legal Foundation, former Reps. Buck McKeon, John Kline and John Boehner write that the Biden administration’s argument that the HEROES Act justifies its debt cancellation plan “is wholly at odds with the Act’s text, the context in which it was passed, and what has always been understood to be the limits of the Act’s reach.” A key Democrat involved in passing the law, former Rep. George Miller, has a different view. He previously filed his own brief in support of the Biden administration’s position that the HEROES Act authorizes widespread debt relief as a response to the pandemic emergency.
— Members of Congress: More than half of the House Republican conference — 128 lawmakers — signed onto a brief arguing that Biden’s plan encroaches on the authority of the legislative branch. And 43 Senate Republicans filed their own, similar brief.
DEMOCRACY GROUP SAYS BIDEN’S DEBT RELIEF IS ABUSE OF EMERGENCY POWERS: Protect Democracy, a watchdog group formed during the Trump administration by a former Obama White House lawyer, weighed in against the legality of Biden’s student debt relief plan “out of concern for executive branch abuses of emergency powers that harm our democracy.”
— The group, which sued over Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to redirect federal funds to a border wall, has backed the Biden administration in other areas. It is siding, for example, with the administration’s effort to get the Supreme Court to terminate a Trump-era policy based on emergency authorities, known as Title 42, which has allowed border agents to immediately expel millions of migrants at the southern border.
— But on student debt, the group argues, the Biden administration has overstepped in invoking emergency powers to permanently wipe out student loans. The Education Department’s argument that it needs to cancel debt as a pandemic response “appears to be a pretext” to address long-term problems with higher education financing that are unrelated to the emergency.
— The “relationship between the Covid-19 emergency and the need permanently to relieve student loan debt is highly strained,” the group wrote. “It is clear that the program is instead meant to carry out a long-term policy agenda—one that meaningfully shifts power away from the legislative branch.”
— Protect Democracy acknowledged that “both student debt and the pandemic have disproportionately harmed lower income and minority communities” but argues that “the answer to these problems is not the unchecked aggrandizement of executive power.” It adds “there may be other lawful ways the Biden administration could use executive action to achieve the goal of relieving student debt.”
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HOUSE GOP SUBPOENAS EDUCATION DEPARTMENT: Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan unloaded the House GOP’s first subpoenas, demanding records about certain Biden administration decisions regarding threats against school officials during the Covid-19 pandemic, POLITICO’s Jordain Carney and Kyle Cheney report.
— Jordan on Friday sent subpoenas to Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona — requesting a laundry list of documents by March 1, according to a review of the three subpoenas by POLITICO.
— The subpoenas are linked to a long-held GOP claim that federal agencies “targeted” parents. It stems from a memo sent by Garland in 2021 about a “spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school officials.
— Conservatives have criticized the administration’s response to a 2021 letter from the National School Boards Association, which had requested federal intervention to address threats to school board members and floated possible enforcement of “domestic terrorism” laws. Cardona has said publicly that he didn’t ask the school boards association to send that letter, which the group has since disavowed.
— The GOP subpoena to Cardona seeks documents or communications between DOJ and Education Department employeesthat relate to Garland’s memo or the National School Boards Association’s request for federal help to deal with threats to school boards.
— The Education Department on Thursday responded to an earlier letter from Jordan about the issue. In that response, obtained by POLITICO, Gwen Graham, assistant secretary for legislation and congressional affairs, wrote that “the Secretary did not request, direct any action, or play any role in the development of the September 29, 2021, letter from the NSBA to President Biden.” That, Graham noted, was also “confirmed by an independent review by outside counsel retained” by the National School Boards Association.
ALSO ON THE HILL THIS WEEK: The House education committee will hold its first hearing of the year on Wednesday. The title is “American Education in Crisis” but witnesses haven’t yet been announced.
BIDEN ADMIN UNVEILS STRICTER NUTRITION RULES FOR SCHOOL MEALS: The Agriculture Department is proposing new, stricter nutrition standards for America’s school meals, cracking down on sugary breakfast cereals and reimagining what the school lunch counter looks like for millions of students, POLITICO’s Marcia Brown reports.
— The new recommendations from the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Services division would limit added sugars, tighten weekly sodium limits for meals over time and reestablish an emphasis on whole grain products.
— Democrats applauded the proposals, which followed White House recommendations last fall aimed at boosting children’s health. “Updating these standards will bring us one step closer to eliminating child malnutrition and the gaps in access to healthy food,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
— But critics are pushing back. School Nutrition Association President Lori Adkins said that “school meal programs are struggling to successfully maintain current standards and need support, not additional, unrealistic requirements.”
— Republicans also expressed misgivings. “Claiming to be science-based doesn’t mean USDA can put unworkable standards in place that make it harder for local school personnel to feed kids,“ Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member John Boozman (R-Ark.) and House Education and the Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said in a statement.
— The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has a new brief examining how student debt affects retirees’ financial security and how that would change under the Biden administration student debt plan.
— A large majority of parents — 84 percent — say the federal government should provide free school lunches for all K-12 public school students, according to a new poll commissioned by the National Parents Union.
— Classified-documents probe highlights Biden family’s deep ties to the University of Pennsylvania: The Wall Street Journal.
— Is a “DARPA for education” finally happening? The Hechinger Report.
— California won’t require Covid vaccine to attend schools: The Associated Press.
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