The Democratic-led Senate handed a stinging rebuke to President Biden on Thursday, passing a measure that overturns his student debt relief plan to give 40 million borrowers up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness — though a presidential veto is likely on the way.
The Senate passed the measure in a 52-46 vote just days after it cleared the GOP-majority House. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) joined Republicans in voting to nix Biden’s proposal.
As a Congressional Review Act (CRA) measure, only 50 votes were required instead of the usual 60 to overcome a filibuster.
The White House has made it clear a veto is coming, and neither chamber can provide the two-thirds vote to override.
Biden’s proposal, however, is still at the mercy of the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which seemed highly skeptical of it during oral arguments earlier this year.
While student debt forgiveness has strong support among progressives, its bicameral rejection would not have been possible without help from moderate Democrats.
In a statement, Manchin said the nation “simply cannot afford to add another $400 billion to the national debt.”
“There are already more than 50 existing student loan repayment and forgiveness programs aimed at attracting individuals to vital service jobs, such as teachers, health care workers, and public servants. This Biden proposal undermines these programs and forces hard-working taxpayers who already paid off their loans or did not got to college to shoulder the cost,” he said.
The votes in the House and Senate happened quickly as the Republicans were able to fast-track them after the Government Accountability Office said Biden’s plan is subject to the CRA.
The debt relief is currently set to cost taxpayers an estimated $400 billion. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that reversing course on the relief would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over 10 years.
Liberals have said they not only disagree with efforts to overturn the measure but have concerns doing so would make it so borrowers owe backpay on the interest for payments not made over the pandemic.
“I’ve seen different legal opinions about whether it is retroactive or exactly how it would affect borrowers, but I think it is clear that it would be very disruptive and very confusing and make it challenging for borrowers to return to repayment successfully,” Education Department Under Secretary James Kvaal said during a House hearing on the issue.
Republicans have denied their bill has any retroactive concerns and have promoted the measure to end student debt relief as an act of fairness to American taxpayers.
“Our resolution prevents average Americans, 87 percent of whom currently have no student loans, from being stuck with a policy that the administration is doing not to be fair to all, but rather to favor the few,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Despite this measure’s certain death at the White House, Republicans this week are claiming another victory against Biden’s student loan actions.
The House on Wednesday passed the bipartisan debt ceiling agreement, which includes a hard cutoff of the pandemic-era student loan payment pause at the end of the summer, nixing any chance advocates had of convincing Biden to continue the moratorium on payments.
Although the president already said payments would begin again 60 days after June 30, at the latest, he has gone back on his word before about restarting them.
“While I wish I could take his words at face value, his past actions have showed me otherwise. Passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act is the only sure-fire way to force a return to repayment and prevent the president from issuing another illegal extension,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
And Republicans are optimistic that their challenges to the debt forgiveness will prevail at the Supreme Court.