At a press conference Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre continued to insist that plans to cancel thousands of dollars in federal student loan debt for millions of Americans would be “paid in full because of the work this President has done with the economy.”
Asked specifically if the government had a better idea of the total price for the program, Jean-Pierre began his answer by saying “the President’s record on fiscal responsibility is second to none” before detailing a list of his economic achievements. But he never gave an estimate of how much the plan would cost.
“All of this in terms of cost will also depend on how many canceled loans are actually expected to be repaid, it will depend on how many borrowers actually take this opportunity before we have any sense,” he said.
He claimed the Treasury was “earning zero over the past two years,” as payments were halted, but on Wednesday National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti said that about $2 billion a month was still being repaid by borrowers during the hiatus, compared to $6 billion a month on a regular basis. normal.
The White House offered a sharper defense of its student loan cancellation plans on Twitter, calling for criticism of the GOP for condoning Payroll Protection Program loans.
The White House tweeted a similar response to criticism from GOP Representatives Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, Vern Buchanan of Florida and Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma.
Asked on Thursday whether the government would eventually release a cost estimate, Jean-Pierre said “the Department of Education will take the lead.”
Asked why the President waited so long to make his decision to cancel the debt, he said Biden “wanted to do it in a fiscally balanced way. And there’s that legal review. … We want to make sure that legal review is done.”
But pressed about how it could be fiscally responsible with no public cost estimates and no specifics on how the plan would be paid for or who would pay for it, Jean-Pierre insisted that the government “does not see this as irresponsible.”
“We don’t see this as irresponsible,” he said. “We saw this as a fiscally responsible and balanced approach to doing this. I remember people saying, ‘Why don’t you do $50,000?’ We don’t want to do that because we want to make sure that we do this in a fiscally responsible way. Again, not pleasing everyone, but making sure that we keep that promise, but also doing it in a smart and fiscally responsible way. ”
Ramamurti had offered more explanation to CNN’s Phil Mattingly on Wednesday in his difficulty in providing a top-line number.
He said, without knowing how many borrowers registered, it would be difficult to know the total cost. “That plays a big role in how much it will cost,” he said.
But beyond that, he said, there are other factors that make it difficult to give exact figures. He said there were differences in the default rate estimates, which would affect the total figure. He added that providing assistance would also bring in additional tax revenue if those who benefit started a small business or bought a house.
This story was updated with additional information Thursday.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.