WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation  that would allow existing student loan borrowers to lower the interest rate on their debt.
The loan refinancing bill, championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and backed  by President Obama, failed to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. It was defeated on a 56-38 vote .
The measure would allow borrowers of both federal and private loans to refinance their debt at the interest rate currently offered to new federal borrowers. It is part of a package of bills that Senate Democrats are promoting as part of their “fair shot” agenda , essentially a platform for the 2014 elections.
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Republicans have criticized the refinancing proposal as an unnecessary subsidy to students that doesn’t address underlying problems with the rising cost of college. They also reject Democrats’ proposal to pay for the refinancing program by ending tax breaks for wealthy Americans.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate committee that oversees education, called the bill “not a serious proposal” and a “political stunt.”
After Wednesday’s vote, Senate Democrats said that Republicans blocking the legislation had sided with millionaires at the expense of struggling student loan borrowers. They indicated they may bring the measure up for another vote. But even if it were to pass the Senate later this year, it will likely go nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the Democrat who chairs the Senate education committee, on Wednesday called the vote on the refinancing bill “only a first step," and referenced the legislation he is currently drafting to reauthorize the main law governing federal student aid programs.
“The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will present another opportunity for Congress to stand up for college affordability and accountability and help borrowers with existing student debt,” he said in a statement. (Harkin, though, is retiring this year, and the measure is not likely to be considered by Congress before then.)