A student loan bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was shot down in the Senate on Wednesday, after Republicans criticized it as a “political stunt” that’s taking time away from work on a critical bill on veterans healthcare.
In a procedural vote, the Senate voted 56-38 for Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. That’s a majority, but under Senate rules, 60 votes were needed to end debate on the bill and set up a final vote.
Sixty votes were only possible with help from five Republicans, but those GOP votes weren’t there.
Democrats have spent the past week saying steps are needed to help save people from drowning in student loan debt. Warren’s bill would let people refinance their loans at lower interest rates, and President Barack Obama has called on Congress to pass it.
But Republicans have pointed to an analysis of the bill that says all it would do is save the average borrower $1 a day. Senate Education Committee ranking member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) noted that this small adjustment to people’s loan payments would come with a huge price — a tax hike on high-income earners that would raise $72 billion over the next decade.
“College graduates don’t need a $1-a-day taxpayer subsidy to help pay off a $27,000 loan,” Alexander said Sunday. “They need a good job.”
On Wednesday morning, Alexander added that by holding the vote, Democrats were wasting time that could have been used to advance a bipartisan Senate bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Why don’t we send this political stunt on student loans to the Senate Education committee… and let’s move on to the veterans bill immediately,” Alexander said. “Why should we take a week on a political stunt that everybody here knows won’t pass, while veterans are standing in line at clinics, waiting for us to act on a bipartisan solution to their problem?”
Just before the procedural vote on the student loan bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of setting up the vote to fail to help create a campaign issue.
“The Senate Democrats’ bill isn’t really about students at all, it’s really all about Senate Democrats,” he said. “Because Senate Democrats don’t actually want a solution for their students. They want an issue to campaign on to save their own hides this November.”
Warren defended her bill as a fair trade that requires the rich to pay more to help people with student loan debt. “Investing in students and asking billionaires to pay their taxes seems pretty fair to me,” she said before the vote.
But the bill would affect many who aren’t billionaires. Her tax hike would increase taxes on income starting at $1 million per year.