Two House Democrats—Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington—faced backlash on Wednesday after voting for a GOP resolution that would repeal President Joe Biden's student debt relief program, which is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges.
The resolution, led by Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), aims to make use of a law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows members of Congress to overturn rules issued by federal agencies. The GOP's student debt measure passed the House by a vote of 218 to 203.
Debt relief campaigners warned that the resolution's impact would be disastrous.
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower, the measure would roll back "at least four months of paused payments and $5 billion per month in waived interest charges, requiring the U.S. Department of Education to send surprise loan bills to tens of millions of borrowers, even potentially impacting the 8th (and current) payment pause," the Student Borrower Protection Center warned.
A report published earlier this week by the American Federation of Teachers and the Student Borrower Protection Center says the Republican measure would "reinstate the debt of more than 260,000 public service workers who have achieved [Public Service Loan Forgiveness] since September 2022, restoring a debt burden that amounts to more than $19 billion overall and more than $72,000 per person."
The Debt Collective, the United States' first debtors' union, decried the Republican resolution and its two Democratic supporters, both of whom represent tens of thousands of people who would benefit from student debt cancellation.
"Jared Golden represents Maine-02. We know there are at least 100,975 student debtors in his district that he voted against today," the Debt Collective tweeted following Wednesday's vote. "Marie Gluesenkamp Perez represents Washington-03. There are at least 93,749 student debtors in her district that she voted against today. Shame."
"Today," the group wrote, "two Democrats voted with Republicans to say that not only should student debt relief be repealed, not only should the pause on payments end, but that you should make retroactive payments from previous months."
As of this writing, Golden and Perez—co-chairs of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition—have not issued statements explaining their votes.
Golden publicly criticized the Biden administration's student debt relief plan last year, calling it "out of touch" even though polling has shown the program is popular.
Republican backers of the resolution dismissed advocates' claims that repealing the Education Department's student debt relief program would hit borrowers with surprise bills, brushing aside such concerns as "not based in reality."
But critics of the resolution stress that it would both block Biden's student debt relief plan and nullify the most recent federal student loan payment pause.
According to the Congressional Research Service, any rule revoked by a CRA resolution of disapproval "would be deemed not to have had any effect at any time, and even provisions that had become effective would be retroactively negated."
Thus the warnings of retroactive interest payments and other consequences for those who have benefited from programs that are "intertwined with the payment pause," such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
"Right-wing proponents have gone to great lengths to mislead their own colleagues and deny the truth—this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, said in a statement Wednesday.
"Should this become law, it will cause irreparable damage to the student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in their government," said Pierce. "This is exactly what extreme conservative lawmakers want, they are just afraid to say it."
The resolution now heads to the U.S. Senate, where—under the CRA—Republicans can force a vote despite being in the minority.
The measure would require just a simple majority to pass the narrowly Democratic upper chamber, though President Joe Biden has threatened to veto the resolution if it reaches his desk.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is leading the Senate resolution, which currently has 47 Republican co-sponsors.
The Washington Postreported Wednesday that "although Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have criticized the debt relief plan, it's unclear whether they will join the Republican effort to dismantle the program."
"Tester's office said he is taking a look at the resolution, while Manchin's office declined to comment," the Post added.
In a floor speech ahead of Wednesday's vote, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said it is "unconscionable but unsurprising" that Republicans are attempting to overturn the Biden administration's student debt relief program.
"Rather than work to alleviate the burden of the student debt crisis," Pressley said, "Republicans are advancing a cruel proposal that would harm 43 million people, hit tens of millions of borrowers with surprise loan bills, and reinstate the debt of over 260,000 public service workers—including our nurses, educators, firefighters, and servicemembers."
"The Senate must vote down this measure," Pressley continued. "The president has made clear he would veto this harmful resolution and stands by his decisive action on student debt relief. Millions of people, from all walks of life, stand to benefit from the president's plan, and we won't stop fighting to deliver the relief the people demand and deserve."