WASHINGTON ― The Senate on Thursday approved a Republican bill that would invalidate President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program even though he has vowed to veto it if it reaches his desk.
Two Democratic senators from red states who are up for reelection next year joined all Republicans in support of the effort: Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I) also voted in favor.
Biden’s plan would cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 per year, offering relief to more than 40 million Americans. The Biden administration has claimed authority to cancel the loans under the HEROES Act of 2003 to provide debt relief during the COVID-19 national emergency.
The fate of the program will likely be decided by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on a challenge next month. Opponents have argued that it is unlawful and claimed it would unfairly burden American taxpayers.
The estimated cost of Biden’s plan is $500 billion, though he has downplayed it by suggesting it could be offset by other measures to reduce the deficit, including the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans say more borrowing could lead to even more inflation, hitting American pocketbooks.
“The Administration’s outrageous plan would shift hundreds of billions of dollars in debt from the doctors, lawyers, and other high-earning professionals who chose to incur it onto American taxpayers who wanted nothing to do with it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday.
Democrats slammed the effort to repeal Biden’s student loan relief program, saying it would deny needed relief to millions of student borrowers, not just those who went to elite schools. And they noted that the legislation the Senate advanced on Wednesday would also undo Biden’s freeze on student loan payments that were originally paused by President Donald Trump in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let me say that again, this is so important. This measure not only repeals the payment pause ― it forces many borrowers to make retroactive payments as well,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Manchin hasn’t yet announced whether he’s running for reelection next year, but he’s already drawn several high-profile challengers, including West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), who is popular in the red state.
In a statement released by his office after the vote on Wednesday, Manchin said that “we simply cannot afford to add another $400 billion to the national debt.” He added that 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.”
Tester’s office also released a statement explaining his vote, saying he “knows that students and young people across Montana continue to struggle with the high cost of student loans, but he does not support the Biden Administration’s order to make taxpayers cover the tab while failing to fix the root causes of the ongoing problem. He believes we need to urgently address the underlying challenges of college affordability, like reining in universities that jack up prices on students.”
The Montana senator also hails from a state that voted heavily for Trump in 2020, and Democrats will need to defend his seat if they want to retain their Senate majority next year.
The White House has said that Biden would veto the measure, which already passed in the GOP-led House.
“Nearly 90 percent of the relief provided by the Department of Education would go to Americans earning less than $75,000 per year, and no relief would go to any individual or household in the top 5 percent of incomes,” the White House said in a statement. Americans should be able to have a little more breathing room as they recover from the economic strains associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”