The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a Republican measure to block President Joe Biden's student debt relief program and end the administration's pause on federal student loan payments.
The House voted 218-203, largely along party lines, with two Democrats — Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington — joining Republicans in supporting the measure. The measure faces unlikely odds in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The House resolution would repeal the administration’s program to cancel between $10,000 and $20,000 in loans for borrowers whose income falls below certain levels or who have received a Pell Grant. The legislation would also end a pandemic-era pause on loan payments and interest accrual.
Republicans have sharply criticized the Biden administration's program, arguing it burdens taxpayers and is unfair to Americans who have already paid off their loans or who did not attend college. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the program would decrease the federal deficit by about $315 billion in the next decade.
The Biden administration, by contrast, has argued that the cost of higher education has become a "lifelong burden" on low- and middle-income Americans. The program provides people with "breathing room" to repay loans after the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis are over, the administration said in a statement.
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who introduced the legislation in the House, praised its passage in a statement after the vote.
"President Biden’s student loan transfer scheme shifts hundreds of billions of dollars of payments from student loan borrowers onto the backs of the American people,” Good said in a statement. “I am pleased that my Republican colleagues overwhelmingly supported my legislation on the House floor today.”
But providing student loan relief has been a key priority for Biden and has helped him marshal support from progressive Democrats. On Monday, the White House warned that Biden would veto the House measure if it makes it to his desk, saying it would "weaken America's middle class."
Democrats have raised concerns that the House resolution would force people to retroactively make loan payments that had been paused during the pandemic. A Congressional Research Service report on how such measures are implemented says disapproved rules would be "deemed not to have had any effect at any time, and even provisions that had become effective would be retroactively negated."
Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the resolution would primarily affect people making less than $75,000 per year and that it "seeks to deny these borrowers the relief they were promised."
"What's going to happen to all those interest payments that now have to be added back to the loan?" Scott said on the chamber floor Wednesday, adding that the legislation "would trigger a wave of delinquencies and defaults for our most vulnerable borrowers.”
A representative for Good did not immediately respond to a request for comment about potential retroactive payments.
The Congressional Budget Office did not account for such payments in its estimate of the bill's financial impact, leaving it unclear whether the Education Department would interpret the resolution as requiring it to charge people for paused payments.
An Education Department spokesperson, responding to a question about retroactive payments, said only that the House resolution “would create immense operational and communication complexities that would seriously harm borrowers.”
The House previously voted to block the debt relief program as part of its bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut government spending. But Wednesday's vote was the first time the legislation came to the House floor as a standalone measure.
Senate Republicans can use special procedures under the Congressional Review Act to force a vote on the measure even though they are the minority party, and the measure would only need a majority of votes to pass, instead of 60 votes. Still, while 47 Senate Republicans have cosponsored Sen. Bill Cassidy's resolution, it is unclear whether it can gain the majority of votes, requiring Democratic support, that it would need to pass the Senate — and it would not have the supermajority needed to override a presidential veto.
Congress is considering the measure as the Supreme Court also weighs in on the Biden administration's program. The high court is poised to soon issue a ruling on whether Biden can continue his plan to cancel some debt for tens of millions of borrowers.