The White House is struggling to answer questions about the costs of the student loan program

At Thursday’s press conference, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre continued to insist that the plan to cancel thousands of dollars in federal student loan debt for millions of Americans “will be paid off in full because of the work this president has done.” economy.”

Asked specifically if the administration had a better idea of ​​the total price tag for the plan, Jean-Pierre began his response by saying, “The president’s record on fiscal responsibility is second to none,” before recounting his list of economic accomplishments. But she never estimated how much the project would cost.

“When it comes to cost it all depends on how many of the canceled loans are actually expected to be repaid, before we get a real sense of how many borrowers actually take up the opportunity,” he said.

Throughout the conference, the press secretary pressed on the numbers. He said the administration doesn’t believe the move will increase the deficit because “we’ve done a good job of reducing the $1.7 trillion … deficit.” Specifies the management plan That’s how much the federal deficit will fall in fiscal year 2022 — $50 billion a year is going to return to the Treasury once student loan repayments begin in December.

He said the Treasury “has been at zero for the last two years” because of the suspension of repayments, but Bharat Ramamurthy, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said on Wednesday that about $2 billion a month was being repaid by borrowers during the suspension. Typically up to $6 billion per month.

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The White House offered a more pointed defense of its student loan cancellation plan on Twitter, calling out GOP critics of the Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness.

“Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green Forgives $183,504 in PPP Loans” White House tweet Biden said the plan was in response to criticism from the Georgia Republican Party. “Congressman Matt Gaetz is forgiven $482,321 in PPP loans,” another wrote in response to similar complaints from Florida lawmakers.

The White House tweeted similar responses to criticism from Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, Vern Buchanan of Florida, and Markwayne Mullin and Kevin Hearn of Oklahoma.

Asked Thursday if the administration would eventually release a cost estimate, Jean-Pierre said, “The education department is going to lead the way.”

Asked why the president waited so long to make the decision to cancel the debt, Biden said he “wanted to do it in fiscal balance. There was a legal review. … We wanted to make sure that the legal review was done.”

But Jean-Pierre insisted the administration “doesn’t see it as irresponsible”, stressing how it could be fiscally responsible without a public cost estimate and no details on how the project would be paid for or who would pay for it.

“We don’t see this as irresponsible,” he said. “We see it as a fiscally responsible, balanced approach to doing this. ‘Why don’t you do $50,000?’ I remember people saying that. We don’t want to do that because we want to make sure that we’re doing this in a fiscally responsible way, again, not pleasing everyone, but making sure that we’re keeping that promise, but doing it in a smart, fiscally responsible way. .”

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Ramamurthy gave CNN’s Bill Mattingly more explanation on Wednesday about the difficulty of providing a top-line number.

Without knowing how many borrowers are signing up, it would be difficult to know the total cost, he said. “It plays a big role in what the cost will be,” he said.

But beyond that, he said, other factors make it difficult to provide a firm number. There are different estimates of default rates, he said, which affects the total number. He also said that beneficiaries of the relief would get additional tax revenue if they start small businesses or buy houses.

This story was updated Thursday with additional information.

CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.

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