Republicans tried to squash Biden's new student loan repayment plan. They failed.

The Senate late Wednesday narrowly struck down a Republican-led effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s generous new student loan repayment plan, which conservative critics slammed as a “free college scheme.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted mostly along party lines in a 49-50 vote to stave off the latest challenge to Biden’s new income-driven payback option known as “Saving on A Valuable Education,” or SAVE. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who is openly flirting with a presidential bid after saying he won’t seek reelection, was the only Democrat to vote with the GOP.

Biden indicated in a memo Tuesday that he would’ve vetoed the two-step joint resolution anyway, had it passed Congress and arrived at his desk.

The plan, which has already enrolled 5.5 million borrowers according to the Education Department, would cap interest for borrowers and base monthly loan repayments on their incomes and family sizes. For some borrowers, payments are set to $0. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has called it the “most affordable repayment plan ever.”

Biden’s SAVE student loan repayment plan Who are the winners and losers in this income-driven repayment option?

Though it failed, the attempt was further proof of the uphill battle Biden faces − be it on the campaign trail, in Congress or in court − when it comes to just about anything related to forgiving student loans or easing the pinch from payments, one of his top political priorities as he seeks reelection.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced the joint resolution on the Senate side in early September with other congressional Republicans.

“Where is the forgiveness for the guy who didn’t go to college but is working to pay off the loan on the truck he takes to work?” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This is irresponsible. It is deeply unfair. “

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., derided the attempt for sending a cruel message, in his words, to working families. “I’m very glad this chamber had the good sense to defeat it,” Schumer said after the measure was declared to have failed to pass. “This is a real victory for our young people and for the future of America.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. − who as a presidential candidate proposed forgiving the entirety of America’s nearly $2 trillion in student loan debt − said although he supports SAVE, Biden’s student debt relief plans haven’t gone far enough.

“We have hundreds of thousands of bright young people who have the ability to get a college degree or to get a good trade certificate, but they cannot afford to do so,” he said, responding to his Republican colleagues on Wednesday. “How absurd is that?”

Americans split on student loan forgiveness as Biden makes it a priority

The political back-and-forth demonstrates just how partisan student loan forgiveness is in Washington and across the country: Americans are largely split about it, with Democrats supportive and Republicans mostly opposed. Despite the divide, Biden vowed to plow forward with a Plan B after the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority struck down his plan for broader loan forgiveness this summer.

Student loan debt holders protest outside the White House staff entrance on July 27, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Student loan debt holders protest outside the White House staff entrance on July 27, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Student loan debt has ballooned into a political and economic crisis in recent years, though its impact on borrowers abated slightly during a three-year pandemic-related pause in payments. That moratorium expired this fall, and the return to repayment prompted a shaky jumpstart to a flawed system. Servicers put borrowers on hold for hours on end, reportedly prompting a federal probe. Some made eye-popping billing errors.

What’s the latest on student loan debt? One huge question looms for Biden’s panel

This fall, a panel convened by the Education Department is in the thick of loan forgiveness discussions, with a third and final round of negotiations set to wrap up in December. Though large-scale relief isn’t likely to emerge from those talks, Americans could see more targeted forms of debt relief − if those new policies can hold up to legal and political challenges, which are likely.

Zachary Schermele is a breaking news and education reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach him by email at Follow him on X at @ZachSchermele.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: SAVE student loan repayment plan survives GOP challenge in Congress

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