The No. 2 Republican in the Senate is throwing cold water on a Democratic proposal aimed at helping borrowers with outstanding student-loan debt.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the minority whip, criticized the legislation, which would finance its provisions through the so-called Buffett Tax on people making more than $1 million.
"This looks like a dusted-off proposal to raise taxes, and that's not something I think we need to do," Cornyn said. "Our economy grew at 0.1 percent last quarter."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act this week as part of the Democrats' Fair Shot Agenda. The legislation has 26 cosponsors — all Democrats — and would let borrowers with outstanding student-loan debt refinance it at the 3.86 percent rate achieved after Congress passed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act last year.
Cornyn said he couldn't say unequivocally that Republicans would withhold their support and keep the measure from getting the 60 votes needed for floor action, because he is still reviewing the legislation. But Republicans generally balk at the notion of raising taxes. He also said that Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, would mount the GOP's response.
"This is kind of like a Trojan horse, the best it looks to me," he said. "I think you're going to hear very positive and constructive proposals from our side. I think Senator Alexander, among others, is going to be leading that effort. We're happy to engage on education and on costs and affordability, but I don't think this is the right approach."
Indeed, Democrats admit that they crafted this year's legislative agenda with the midterm elections in mind. Still, Cornyn's criticism of the bill was swift and comes even before the chamber begins debating the measure.
Democrats argue that the legislation is needed because student debt is weighing down the economy and dragging graduates from the ranks of the middle class rather than boosting them into it.
"Allowing students to refinance their loans would put money back in the pockets of people who invested in their education," Warren said in a statement. "These students didn't go to the mall and run up charges on a credit card. They worked hard and learned new skills that will benefit this country and help us build a stronger middle class and a stronger America."