WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to overturn the Biden administration’s one-time student debt relief plan that is on hold due to a pending Supreme Court decision.
President Joe Biden has vowed to veto the resolution, but the 52-46 vote forced vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2024 to take a public stance on loan forgiveness that Republicans have lambasted as a “bailout.”
Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted in favor of overturning the relief plan. ““Biden’s student loan transfer is unaffordable and unfair, strapping the debt of those who chose higher education onto the backs of those who did not,” Ernst said in a statement.
The resolution, brought under the Congressional Review Act that allows Congress to reverse certain administration actions, was one of several maneuvers Republicans have used to block the one-time cancellation of up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers who qualify. The resolution passed the U.S. House last week and now goes to the White House.
In a statement ahead of the House vote, the White House blasted the student loan measure.
“This resolution is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery, and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief,” the statement read. “Americans should be able to have a little more breathing room as they recover from the economic strains associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Senators up for reelection next year who voted with Republicans, include Democrats Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Though some Democratic senators crossed party lines Thursday, several others have criticized the resolution for not only blocking student debt relief, but requiring borrowers to pay back interest from the pause on student loan repayments first implemented by the Trump administration in 2020 due to the coronavirus and extended several times.
“My Republican colleagues talk a big game about helping working families, but this legislation shows how callous and uncaring they are, by trying to block relief that would immediately improve the lives of millions of borrowers,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor Wednesday.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, the Louisiana Republican who introduced the resolution, argued on the Senate floor Wednesday that the Biden administration did not have the authority to enact its debt relief program. Cassidy pointed to how Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. expressed skepticism during oral arguments in February about the policy.
Several members of the court’s conservative majority questioned whether the president could enact a program that would approve $400 billion in relief without congressional approval.
Cassidy said the Biden administration’s plan will “transfer the burden from those who willingly took out loans for college in order to make more money when they graduated, to Americans who never attended college or already fulfilled their commitment to pay off their loans.”
“It is unfair to the hundreds of millions of Americans who will bear the burden of paying off hundreds of billions of dollars of someone else’s student debt,” he said.
Sen. John Thune, the Senate minority whip, called the student loan forgiveness policy a “government handout” in a Thursday floor speech.
“It’s something of a slap in the face to Americans who chose more affordable college options or worked their way through school to avoid taking loans, or whose parents scrimped and saved to put them through college,” the South Dakota Republican said.
Latest reversal attempt
Even though the plan was announced last year, Congress can take action following a March Government Accountability Office report that classified the policy as a regulation under the Congressional Review Act, or CRA.
The CRA is a procedural tool that can be used to overturn agency actions and needs only 51 votes to pass the Senate, unlike the usual 60 votes required to defeat a filibuster.
The CRA is the latest attack from congressional Republicans on the Biden administration’s student loan policy. A provision in the debt ceiling bill the House passed would codify the end of the pause on federal student loan repayments by the end of August and bar the administration from reinstating a pause on repayments unless approved by Congress.
The Senate is expected to clear that bill, which Biden and Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated.
The White House last year announced its plans to resume requiring repayments on student loans either 60 days after the Supreme Court’s decision on the administration’s student debt cancellation policy or 60 days after June 30.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said on the Senate floor Thursday that the relief approved for 16 million student loan applicants could be “life-changing for so many borrowers.”
“This relief is targeted to reach those who need it the most,” Murray, who chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said.
In order to qualify for relief, a single adult has to make under $125,000 a year, and married couples have to make less than $250,000. The policy would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers, and those who received Pell Grants are eligible for an additional $10,000 in forgiveness of federal student loans.
Murray said about 90% of relief would go toward borrowers making $75,000 or less.
The debt relief program was initially halted in October by an appeals court following an emergency request from Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, and Republican attorneys general in Nebraska, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Kansas.