by Colleen Flaherty
Although the week started on a positive note thanks to President Barack Obama’s executive order to help those struggling with student loan debt, Congress blocked a piece of legislation yesterday that would’ve helped millions in debt while asking the wealthy to pay their fair share.
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The final vote on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act came to 56-38, just short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and proceed to a floor debate.
“With this vote we show the American people who we work for in the United States Senate—billionaires or students,” said Warren on the Senate floor just minutes before the vote.
The bill would have allowed those with existing federal student loans and private loans in good standing to refinance at a lower rate to make repayment more manageable. In order to offset the cost of refinancing, the bill would have implemented the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals with incomes of $1 million or more.
The vote was not strictly along party lines as three Republicans—Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska–voted for the bill.
“The debt that students past, present and future are saddled with is something we must address,” said Murkowski. “I believe that our college students deserve true improvements that work for every student, and I stand ready to work with any Senator on either side of the aisle to reach the goal of lowering the costs of higher education and getting our student debt to a more manageable level.”
Currently, more than 70 percent of America’s students borrow money to attend college, and the average student graduates from college owning nearly $30,000. Forty million Americans have student loan debt, which currently stands at a staggering $1.2 trillion, surpassing credit card debt.
“As President Obama said Monday, some in Congress are working hard to block any progress on this issue and any others that will help working families,” said Dennis Van Roekel, Arizona teacher and NEA president.
“Instead of fighting for working families and college affordability, some members of Congress are fighting to keep their millionaire constituents from paying their fair share of taxes. But the fact is, students and families desperately need fiscal relief. It’s past time to hold politicians accountable for meeting the needs of students.”
The exploding student loan debt—which grew by $31 billion just from January to March—will continue to hurt the economy and middle class families while making it more difficult for future generations to attend and pay for higher education.
“Educators believe all students should have a fair shot at a college education so they can pursue their dreams. Today’s students are tomorrow’s educators, doctors, nurses, engineers, and scientists—the next generation of innovators who will drive our country and our economy forward,” said Van Roekel.