The Senate voted largely along party lines Thursday on legislation to block President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program after the measure cleared a key procedural hurdle in the chamber.
The 52-46 vote to pass the legislation comes a day after senators took a similarly close vote to proceed to the measure, which would repeal Biden’s debt relief program and end the administration’s pause on federal student loan payments. A few moderate senators — Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana and independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — voted with Republicans on the final passage vote as well as the motion to take up the measure.
Just a simple majority of senators were needed to pass the legislation and send it to Biden's desk. But the White House warned in a Statement of Administration Policy last month that Biden would veto the resolution.
“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 said.
The House passed the measure last week in a 218-203 vote, largely along party lines, with two Democrats — Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington — joining Republicans in supporting the measure.
The resolution would repeal the administration’s program to cancel up to $10,000 in loans for borrowers whose income falls below certain levels and up to $20,000 for those who received Pell Grants. The resolution would also end a pandemic-era pause on loan payments and interest accrual.
The biggest test for Biden's student loan relief plan, however, could still be ahead. The Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, is expected to rule on two cases on Biden’s debt relief plan this month.
The debt ceiling legislation negotiated by Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., which passed the House on Wednesday and heads to the Senate, would resume payments on federal student loans that were paused at the start of the pandemic. Payments would resume at the end of August if the debt bill is signed into law. But the debt legislation would not block Biden’s debt forgiveness plan, despite GOP-led attempts to include a provision to do so.
Republicans have argued that the Biden administration’s student debt forgiveness program burdens taxpayers and is unfair to those who paid off loans they borrowed or those who did not attend college. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the program would decrease the federal deficit by $315 billion in the next decade.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has argued in a statement that the cost of higher education has become a “lifelong burden” on low- and middle-income Americans, and therefore debt relief would provide borrowers with “breathing room” after the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis have passed.