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Senate passes GOP-led resolution to block Biden's student loan relief plan

Student loan borrowers gather near The White House in May 2020. On Thursday, the Senate voted to repeal President Biden's plan to offer up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt relief.
Paul Morigi
Getty Images
Student loan borrowers gather near The White House in May 2020. On Thursday, the Senate voted to repeal President Biden's plan to offer up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt relief.

The Senate passed legislation on Thursday seeking to repeal the Biden administration's student loan relief plan, setting up a pledged veto from the president.

The relief plan, which would cancel up $20,000 in federal student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans, has been tied up in the courts for months. A Supreme Court ruling that could block the plan is expected by early July.

The latest legislative action against the plan amounts to a symbolic show of congressional disapproval.

Republicans introduced the bill by invoking the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to reverse executive orders and requires only a simple majority in both chambers to pass. But it still requires a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto, and Republicans aren't expected to have the numbers.

The resolution passed the House last week with a 218-203 vote. Thursday's Senate vote was 52-46.

Two moderate Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana — sided with the Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent, also voted in favor.

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Mark Warner, D-Va., did not cast votes. Both have been vocal critics of the plan, saying it only shifted the cost burden elsewhere.

Republicans have offered fierce opposition from the outset, calling the plan an enormously expensive handout. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost taxpayers roughly $400 billion.

In a statement following Thursday's vote, the White House called the resolutionan "unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery."

Student loan repayment is still set to resume in late August

The Senate took another action on student loan debt on Thursday, passing a bipartisan bill to lift the national debt ceiling. That new legislation sets the date for resuming federal student loan repayments, which have been on hold since March 2020.

All federal student loan borrowers will now be expected to start making payments again after August 29. That's also the date their loans will again accrue interest.

After five extensions, this appears to be the final end to the repayment pause: The debt deal prohibits the education secretary from making extensions without congressional approval.

The restart will affect some 43 million borrowers who, collectively, owe over a trillion in student loan debt. But, in effect, the debt deal hasn't changed much about the current loan landscape.

Back in November, the Biden administration said it was planning to end the pause at the end of August, or, at the latest, 60 days after the Supreme Court rules on Biden's broader student debt relief plan.

A Supreme Court decision on the student loan relief plan is expected any day now

With Biden's veto of the Senate's standalone legislation, the fate of the broader federal student loan debt relief remains in the hands of the Supreme Court.

It was last August that Biden first announced plans to cancel up to $20,000 of debt for anyone who received a Pell Grant to attend college and up to $10,000 for federal borrowers earning less than $125,000.

The rollout of that plan was shortly put on ice to account for a lawsuit brought by a coalition of conservative states, who say the president overstepped his executive powers.

The Biden administration argues the program falls under the HEROES Act, a 2003 law that gives the Department of Education the power to forgive student loan debt during a national emergency.

The court's six conservative justices showed skepticism towards Biden's arguments in February. A ruling in the case is expected in June or early July.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.