The White House caused a stir on Twitter Thursday afternoon by calling out several Republican lawmakers who criticized President Joe Biden’s move to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for many borrowers, pointing out that some of the critics’ businesses had more than $1 million in federal loans forgiven as part of the pandemic-era Paycheck Protection Program.
The White House account quote-tweeted criticisms of Biden’s plan voiced by Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Kevin Hern (Okla.) and Mike Kelly (Penn.), while also quoting a tweet from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) critical of funding the Ukrainian military.
Each quote tweet simply listed the member of Congress’ name and how much in PPP loans they had forgiven: The White House says Buchanan had the most of the cohort with $2.3 million in forgiven loans, followed by Mullin ($1.4 million), Hern ($1 million), Kelly ($987,237), Gaetz ($482,321) and Greene ($183,504).
All six lawmakers received PPP loans by owning or being affiliated with businesses eligible under the program: For example, Hern’s fast food company and Mullin’s plumbing company received PPP loans, as did several of Kelly’s car dealerships and a company owned by Greene’s family.
The six tweets in the White House’s thread were the six most popular on the platform published between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern time, according to data compiled by social media tracking firm NewsWhip.
Unlike federal student loans, PPP loans were doled out at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic with the intention of being forgiven, provided borrowers met certain qualifications like spending most of the funding on payroll costs and maintaining employee compensation levels.
Biden has come under a barrage of criticism from Republican lawmakers for his move Wednesday to cancel $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year, with $20,000 in debt relief for those under the income threshold who received Pell Grants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was among the first lawmakers to speak out against the plan, castigating it as “a slap in the face to every family who sacrificed to save for college.” The GOP and a handful of Democratic moderates have also slammed the plan over concerns that it will further fuel inflation, but the White House has brushed off those worries. Biden suggested at a news conference Wednesday he would use PPP loan forgiveness to clap back at criticism, saying, “No one complained that those loans caused inflation.”
The Paycheck Protection Program was created under the CARES Act in March 2020, with the primary purpose of keeping workers on small businesses’ payrolls during a period of widespread shutdowns in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been marred by reports of fraud and abuse, and instances in which larger and more well-heeled employers took out loans. A study published last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis determined “benefits flowed disproportionately to wealthier households rather than to the rank-and-file workers,” and estimated that taxpayers spent $4 for every $1 that went toward workers’ wages in PPP loans.