Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Jon Tester along with independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema joined Republicans on Thursday in a vote to end President Joe Biden‘s student loan forgiveness program that aims to help millions of borrowers.
The Senate voted 52-46 to cancel the Democratic president’s plan after House Republicans passed legislation last week to invalidate the loan forgiveness effort. The bill, House Joint Resolution 45, seeks to nullify a rule issued by the Department of Education in October suspending federal student loan payments and discharging those debts.
Sinema and Tester argued that while they want to help people in their states resolve student loan issues, they believe the president should focus on addressing the troubles of the loan system itself.
“Like many Arizonans, education was my key to opportunity. Arizonans expect—and deserve—lasting solutions that tackle the underlying problem of high education costs,” Sinema told Newsweek. “The President’s student loan forgiveness plan—fueled by politics and not reality—is unfair to hardworking Arizonans who have responsibly paid their student loans, creates false expectations, and undermines Arizona students’ economic certainty.”
Echoing Sinema, Tester of Montana said that he is aware of the struggles that people in his state face when trying to repay the high cost of student loans but added that he doesn’t support making taxpayers “cover the tab while failing to fix the root causes of the ongoing problem.”
Tester’s spokesperson told Newsweek in an email that the senator believes “we need to urgently address the underlying challenges of college affordability, like reining in universities that jack up prices on students. Every Montana student who needs financial aid should be able to access it, and Montanans who choose not to go to college need a path to a good job that allows them to stay, work, and raise a family in Montana. Senator Tester will continue to push his colleagues in Congress to address this serious issue in a bipartisan way.”
Following the Senate’s vote to block the plan, the bill is now expected to head to Biden, who vowed to veto it. Biden prioritized student loan forgiveness in his 2020 campaign and has continued to strongly defend it.
“[Biden] will veto this bill,” Karine Jean Pierre, White House press secretary, said last week. It is not likely that the Senate and House would have enough support to override a presidential veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
Around 43 million borrowers owe a total of $1.6 trillion in student loans, Forbes reported last month.
Biden announced the loan relief plan last year to forgive outstanding federal student loan debt for some borrowers. The president said that those who have student loans and make less than $125,000 a year are eligible to get $20,000 in student loan forgiveness if they received Pell Grants, while those who make less than $125,000 and didn’t receive a Pell will be eligible for $10,000 in forgiveness.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts denounced the Senate’s vote.
“Senate Republicans just voted to block @POTUS‘ student debt relief plan, force millions to immediately pay back paused student loans & claw back relief from public servants,” Warren tweeted after the vote. “It’s shameful. Thankfully we have President Biden who cares about working people & will veto this.”
Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington also spoke against efforts to overturn student loan forgiveness efforts.
“I just spoke on the Senate floor against Senate Republicans’ efforts to undo @POTUS’s student loan debt relief plan and rip away relief millions of borrowers are counting on. We’re here to make people’s lives better—not punish them for a broken loan system they got stuck with,” she tweeted on Thursday.
Biden’s plan has been repeatedly criticized by Republicans, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who argued last year that “slacker baristas” benefitting from loan forgiveness would help Democrats win the 2022 midterm elections in which they won Senate majority while Republicans narrowly won majority in the House.
“There is a real risk,” said Cruz at the time. “If you are that slacker barista who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless things, now has loans and can’t get a job—Joe Biden just gave you 20 grand. Like, holy cow! 20 grand. You know, maybe you weren’t gonna vote in November. And suddenly you just got 20 grand.”
“And you know, if you can get off the bong for a minute and head down to the voting station,” he continued. “Or just send in your mail-in ballot that the Democrats have helpfully sent you—it could drive up turnout, particularly among young people.”
Newsweek has reached out via email to the media office of Manchin for comment.
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