The Senate passed Republican-led legislation Thursday seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 of student debt relief for tens of millions of borrowers, setting up a promised veto from the White House.
On a 52-46 vote, the Senate gave Congress’ final approval to the measure to nullify the debt cancellation program and repeal the freeze on student loan repayment and interest.
Democratic rebuke: Moderate Democrats teamed up with Republicans to pass the legislation. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) and Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.) voted in favor of the measure.
Manchin blasted Biden’s student loan program this week as a “reckless” plan that adds too much to the national debt. In a statement explaining his vote, Manchin said it also “forces hard-working taxpayers who already paid off their loans or did not go to college to shoulder the cost.”
Veto incoming: The legislation, which the House passed last week, now heads to Biden, who the White House said plans to defend his signature student loan forgiveness policy and veto the measure.
The legislative rebuke of Biden’s plan to cancel debt relief is largely symbolic. Senate Republicans used a process that allows it to pass legislation to undo recent regulations with a simple majority vote but neither the House nor Senate passed the measure with the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override Biden’s veto.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the top Republican vote-counter, acknowledged on the floor Thursday that Biden’s veto would be sustained. “Unfortunately, the president is guaranteed to veto the measure, and there are not enough Democrats in the House and Senate to be willing to override his veto,” he said.
Pause still ending: The standalone legislation passed by the Senate on Thursday won’t become law. But Congress is separately still poised to end the long-running pause on federal student loan payments and interest.
The Senate on Thursday began debate on the deal that Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached to raise the debt ceiling. That bill, which passed the House on Wednesday night, would terminate the Education Department’s suspension of federal student loan payments and interest on August 30.
The deal effectively requires the Biden administration to resume collecting monthly payments and charging interest for roughly 40 million Americans for the first time since they were paused in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.
Biden administration officials argued that the compromise agreement keeps Biden’s student loan agenda intact and merely codifies their preexisting plan to restart payments later this year.
But many progressives worry that the administration was locking itself into restarting payments even if the Supreme Court rules in the coming weeks that it can’t cancel student debt for tens of millions of borrowers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, said on Wednesday he would not vote to eliminate the student loan pause that “has been a lifeline to millions of working families during the pandemic.”
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