A bill sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to ease student loan debt has sadly become the latest worthy piece of legislation to be stalled in the United States Senate by the Republican Party, which might as well officially rename itself the Party of No (because that is its answer to just about every good idea).
Earlier today, Senator Harry Reid invoked cloture on S.2432, the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow most of the country’s students to refinance into new federal direct loans at lower interest rates.
Fifty-six Senators (not counting Reid, who ultimately voted against the bill in a parliamentary maneuver that allows him to bring it back up again) voted to proceed with debate on the legislation, including Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Susan Collins of Maine.
But the rest of the Republican caucus voted no. The final vote on cloture was fifty-six to thirty-eight; six senators did not vote. Sixty “aye” votes were needed to break the Republican filibuster. Had Claire McCaskill of Missouri been present, the Democrats would have had a total of fifty-eight potential aye votes, and would only have needed two more Republicans to go along.
Voting Aye: Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (WA), Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden (OR), Jon Tester and John Walsh (MT), Mark Begich (AK); Republican Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Voting Nay: Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID)
As usual, Idaho’s terrible twosome were on the wrong side of the vote.
Ahead of the vote in remarks on the floor, Reid castigated Senator Mitch McConnell and his followers for refusing to support the bill.
I was disappointed to learn that my colleague, the Republican Leader, does not support this legislation. Not too long ago, he referred to Democrats’ proposals to address student loan debt as a “fake fight.” For the twenty-five million Americans who stand to benefit from this bill, I assure my friend that there is nothing fake about helping working families pay off debt and save money. To the single mother working two jobs just to take care of her family and make her student loan payments on time, this legislation is very real. Instead, the Republican Leader has reaffirmed his commitment to the status quo. Why reform today, what he and his party say they’ll reform next year?
On the other hand, Senate Democrats are not standing around waiting for a new year or a new Congress to tackle the problem of student loan debt. We are anxious to extend a helping hand to the more than 40 million Americans who are fighting to keep their heads above water. Let’s come to the aid of those individuals struggling with student loan debt, and keep them from sinking deeper into financial quicksand.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, S. 2432’s sponsor, was more blunt. In an appearance on MSNBC, she excoriated the entrenched Kentucly Republican.
“Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires,” Warren told host Chris Hayes, host of All In. “He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves.”
She then vowed to campaign against him in response to a question from Hayes.
“One way I’m going to start fighting back is I’m going to go down to Kentucky and I’m going to campaign for [Democratic Senate nominee] Alison Lundergan Grimes,” Warren said. “She’s tough, she’s feisty, she endorsed the student loan bill, said she wanted to bring down interest rates for Kentuckians.”
“I’m going to get out there and try to make this happen for her.”
“Senator McConnell’s blatant disregard for the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians crushed by student loan debt is deeply disconcerting,” she said.
“This vote against our middle-class families underscores the fact that my opponent has been in Washington for far too long and just does not get it. I call on the Senate to pass both the legislation to ease student loan burden as well as the bipartisan bill to address problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs. Kentucky students and veterans deserve a champion who will fight for them in the U.S. Senate – not stand idly by and ignore the needs of real people.”
Our own Senator Maria Cantwell went to the Senate floor after the vote on cloture to urge the Republicans to reconsider. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks:
I know some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle didn’t support this legislation, but the Congressional Budget Office projects that the bill would actually reduce the deficit by about $14 billion over the next decade. That’s important because we want to see policies that are going to help our economy in the short-run, in the long-run, but they have to be fiscally responsible.
I want to make sure that those critics who say, oh, well if you make the interest rate lower that students are going to borrow more money.
I don’t think that students are looking to borrow more to add to their debt. I don’t think students that I talked to, who had loans as high as $180,000, want to borrow more money just because you are going to reduce the interest rate. They want to refinance, reduce their obligation and get back to studying. There’s much more that we need to do to mitigate the costs of higher education and I know my colleagues and I are going to be working on that. But the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Relief Act was a very good step to help students and to focus them on their careers and their education.
So again, I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will look again at this issue and get back to it.
We need to make sure that college education is more affordable. It’s time for us to extend the same benefits that we do for businesses and mortgages to students, so that they can refinance and that 25 million students in America could refinance their student loans.
So I thank Senator Warren for bringing this issue up, and I hope we will get back to it again.