(Updates with Obama, McConnell quotes)
By Jeff Mason and Eric Beech
WASHINGTON, June 11 Legislation to allow student
loan borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates failed to
clear a procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday,
dooming a measure that was a Democratic priority ahead of
November congressional elections.
Democrats had said the bill would let holders of both
federal and private undergraduate loans - some with rates of 9
percent or higher - to refinance at 3.86 percent. Republicans
thought the legislation was too expensive.
The bill, championed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth
Warren, was part of Democrats' plan this year to rally their
base supporters ahead of an election that could tip control of
the Senate into Republican hands.
Younger voters made up a huge part of the coalition that
helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
The president, during remarks at a high school graduation in
Massachusetts, lamented the bill's failure.
"When a bill to help you pay off your college doesn't pass,
it's a disservice not only to your generation but to our history
as a nation that strives to put quality education within the
reach of every American," he said. "So we're going to have to
keep on putting pressure on Congress."
Obama signed an executive order on Monday making it easier
for up to 5 million people to pay off college tuition debt and
scolded congressional Republicans for opposing the legislative
fix to lower student-loan interest costs.
The Senate voted 56-38 on Wednesday in favor of a motion
that would have ended debate on the measure and paved the way
for a final vote. That fell short of the 60 votes that would
have been needed to move it forward.
"Senate Democrats don't actually want a solution for
students. They want an issue to campaign on - to save their own
hides in November," said Senate Republican leader Mitch
"Students can understand that this bill won't make college
more affordable. They understand it won't reduce the amount of
money they have to borrow. And students know it won't do a thing
to fix the economy that's depriving so many young Americans of
jobs," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in remarks to reporters
after the vote, blamed Republicans for the bill's failure.
Republican opposition has thwarted other Democratic
priorities, including a push to raise the federal minimum wage
and renew expired long-term jobless benefits for millions of
Democrats control the Senate, 55-45, but need 60 votes to
clear Republican procedural hurdles.
Last year, Congress approved the Bipartisan Student Loan
Certainty Act of 2013, which set the undergraduate student loan
interest rate at 3.86 percent for the current school year.
Democrats proposed that the cost of the bill be offset by
reducing tax breaks for millionaires and cited data showing that
student-loan debt grew by $31 billion from January to March to
total $1.1 trillion, making it the fastest-growing household
(Additional reporting by Patrick Temple-West and Steve Holland;
Editing by Caren Bohan and Dan Grebler)