Senate Republicans Block Bill to Allow Student-Loan Refinancing

June 11, 2014

To the disappointment of Democrats but the surprise of few, Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill that would have let borrowers refinance their student-loan debt.

In a procedural vote, Democrats fell four votes short of the 60 they needed to bring the measure to the Senate floor. In the tally, three Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting to proceed, while 37 Republicans voted not to. Six senators, including one Democrat, did not vote.

The bill, S 2432, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth A. Warren of Massachusetts, would have allowed struggling borrowers to refinance their loans at current interest rates, and it drew support from President Obama. Republicans opposed the measure because it would have been paid for with a tax increase on millionaires.

In a statement issued after the vote, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the chamber’s education committee, accused Republicans of putting politics "ahead of helping American families" and "hurting millions of borrowers with outstanding student loans." He hinted that Democrats would revisit the measure as part of work later this year to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

"Today’s vote was only a first step," he said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the committee and a former college president and secretary of education, accused Democrats of wasting time on a "political stunt."

"This is not a serious proposal," he said on the Senate floor. "Everybody in the Senate knows that. They know it’s not going to pass. So why would we be wasting our time on it?"

Democrats have estimated that the measure would save the average borrower $2,000 in interest over the life of his or her loan, with some borrowers saving more.