A petition drive that drew more than 300,000 signatures in support of a student loan refinancing bill was not enough to prevent a Senate filibuster of the bill, but supporters of the effort are continuing the fight to eventually make the bill law.
The bill, the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, was designed to allow borrowers to lower their student loan interest rates, which can be as high as 14 percent, to 3.86 percent, the same rate Republicans and Democrats agreed on last year for federal Stafford loans.
The Campaign for America’s Future, together with Generation Progress, the AFL-CIO, and other organizations delivered these petitions to Capitol Hill on June 10. Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Al Franken (Minn.), Richard Durbin (Ill.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y), and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) spoke at the press conference.
Also speaking was Andy Wordel, a student loan borrower with a $75,000 debt, on behalf of the 40 million Americans struggling under the pressure of student loan debts and its static high interest rates.
“After I graduated, I struggled to make student loan payments, and certainly lived paycheck to paycheck—despite working full time as a social service worker,” he said. “We currently have no alternatives.”
Sen. Warren said this bill was crucially important for individuals and the American economy. “Young people are not able to make the economic decisions that move their lives forward, and the economy forward,” she said.
The five thick stacks of papers represented the nearly one-third of a million Americans who firmly support Warren’s student loan refinancing proposal. Yet, the bill was, for the second time this year, filibustered by Senate Republicans when it came to the floor last Wednesday. With a vote of 56-38, it fell just short of the 60 votes necessary to allow it to proceed to full debate and an up-or-down vote.
Minutes before the bill came to the floor for a vote last Wednesday, Warren underscored the crucial need for this bill. “With this vote we show the American people who we work for in the United States Senate: Billionaires or students,” she said.
As Wednesday’s vote showed, Senate Republicans took the side of a mere 22,000 millionaires, instead of standing with the 40 million Americans affected by high student loan interest rates.
The Bank on Students bill would have been fully paid for by enacting the “Buffett rule,” which ensures billionaires and millionaires pay their fair share of taxes.
Senate Democratic leaders say they are firmly committed to keeping the issue alive, promising to bring the proposal up for another vote later this year. Also, some activist groups see an opportunity to make the issue a part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a must-pass piece of legislation that affects, among other issues, accreditation of colleges and universities. “We’re not giving up,” Warren said firmly at a press conference shortly after the vote.