Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) as well as independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) voted in favor of the procedural motion to start debate on the measure.
Dem rebuke: Republicans have nearly uniformly opposed mass student loan forgiveness since Biden last August unveiled his plan to cancel up to $20,000 of debt per borrower.
But the Senate vote on Wednesday was the first formal pushback from centrist Democrats who have previously expressed unease with Biden’s effort to forgive large swaths of student debt.
Key context: The House passed the resolution on a nearly party-line vote last week with the support of most Republicans and a pair of Democratic lawmakers.
Under the Congressional Review Act, the fast-track procedure that lawmakers are using to try to stop the student debt relief, the Senate could pass the measure later this week on a simple majority vote.
But the White House has promised that Biden would veto the bill if Congress were to pass it.
The bill hasn’t attracted enough support in either the House or Senate to comprise the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a presidential veto.
Debt deal: The Senate is taking up the measure as Congress weighs a debt ceiling agreement that would also solidify the end of the pause on federal student loan payments and interest that’s been in place since March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.
The bill, which the House is expected to take up later on Wednesday, would require the Biden administration to resume collecting student loans and charging interest after Aug. 30.
White House officials fended off Republican efforts to include in the deal a full repeal of Biden’s student debt cancellation plan, to the chagrin of many conservative lawmakers.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, a lead negotiator, said on Tuesday that Biden’s loan forgiveness was “saved” in the final deal.
“This bill does end the payment pause, but very close to the timeframe we were going to end it,” she said. The Biden administration previously said it would keep the payment pause until the end of August at the latest.
What’s next: A final vote on the Congressional Review Act resolution in the Senate is set for Thursday.
The plan is on hold while the Supreme Court deliberates over legal challenges brought by Republican attorneys general and a conservative group. The justices in the coming weeks are expected to issue a ruling on whether the plan can proceed.