Senate rejects Biden’s student loan forgiveness program

The Senate on Thursday approved a Republican-led resolution to strike down President Biden’s plan to forgive more than $400 billion in student loans.

The 52-46 vote, arriving a week after the House passed the measure and as the Supreme Court considers the legality of the relief plan, also would restart loan payments for tens of millions of borrowers that have been on pause since early in the coronavirus pandemic. The resolution also would prevent the Education Department from pursuing similar policies in the future.

While Biden has promised to veto the bill, the vote in the Senate, in which two Democrats and an independent sided with Republicans, shows the divisiveness of the student loan policy and the difficulty of getting any future plan through Congress.

It became clear the resolution could clear both chambers after Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) voted to advance the bill earlier this week. All three have been critical of Biden’s debt relief policy but had not previously said whether they would join the Republican effort to dismantle the program.

“There are already more than 50 existing student loan repayment and forgiveness programs aimed at attracting individuals to vital service jobs,” Manchin said in a statement Wednesday after advancing the measure to the floor. “This Biden proposal undermines these programs and forces hard-working taxpayers who already paid off their loans or did not go to college to shoulder the cost.”

But on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) argued the congressional resolution “increases the yoke of student loan debt and sets up borrowers to fail.”

Unveiled in August, Biden’s loan forgiveness plan would eliminate up to $10,000 of federal student debt for borrowers earning up to $125,000 annually, or up to $250,000 for married couples. Recipients of Pell Grants, a form of financial aid for low- and middle-income students, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in forgiveness.


The program has faced many legal challenges and the Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling on its legality before the end of June.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is fighting separate legal challenges to the ongoing payment pause from private lender SoFi and the conservative nonprofit Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The moratorium was first introduced by the Trump administration in response to the coronavirus pandemic more than three years ago, but spawned lawsuits after the Biden administration in November also cited the legal challenges to the forgiveness plan in announcing another extension.

Legislation to suspend the debt ceiling and limit federal spending could render those lawsuits moot.

A provision in the legislation, which passed the House this week, codifies the Education Department’s plan to resume student loan payments 60 days after the Supreme Court hands down a decision or on Sept. 1. The Senate is slated to vote on the debt ceiling deal this week.

The moratorium has suspended student loan payments without accrual of interest, saving borrowers some $5 billion a month in interest. Each month of suspended payments has counted toward loan forgiveness for borrowers in public-service jobs, helping many achieve or move closer to debt cancellation. Menendez and other congressional Democrats warned that the resolution will undo those benefits, a charge Republicans have denied.

To end the payment pause and sideline Biden’s debt relief program, Republicans used the Congressional Review Act, which lets lawmakers overturn recent regulatory actions of federal agencies with a simple majority vote in both chambers. Although the president created the cancellation program through an executive order, the Government Accountability Office said in March that the policy and the student loan payment pause are subject to the CRA.