WASHINGTON -- Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee disagreed Wednesday about allowing debate on the refinancing of older student loans, legislation that would have been paid for with new taxes on millionaires.
On a cloture motion, Alexander voted against letting the bill advance to the Senate floor. Corker supported the motion, which fell just four votes shy of the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster. The tally was 56-38, with six not voting.
It's the second time in less than two months the two lawmakers have disagreed on a major vote. In April they split on a cloture motion related to an increase in the minimum wage. Alexander voted against cloture on that bill as well, while Corker said increasing family incomes was an issue in need of debate.
President Barack Obama favored the student-loan legislation, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The White House held several events earlier this week to call attention to it and released a stream of information on student-loan indebtedness.
Alexander called the measure "a week-long political stunt" by Democrats at a time when the Senate should focus on reforming the Veterans Affairs medical system.
He described the bill as raising individual income taxes by $72 billion and adding up to $420 billion in new federal debt "to offer a $1-a-day subsidy for some old student loans."
Alexander, who is up for re-election this year, added in a statement that the bill "does nothing, not one thing, for current or future students. If you're in college today or if you're going tomorrow, this doesn't do anything for you. So don't let the rhetoric fool you."
Corker said that while he would not have voted for the underlying bill, "I think we should at least allow debate on ways to address the rising price of education and help students weigh the cost of undertaking debt with the value of the investment they are making in their future."
The bill would have allowed borrowers to refinance federal student loans at interest rates much lower than they received years ago. The federal government is far and away the largest provider of student loans but provides no refinancing options.
The government is projected to profit $66 billion on student loans issued from 2007-2012.
To pay for the loan relief, Democrats wanted to establish minimum tax rates on those earning more than $1 million annually. Earners in that category frequently take advantage of loopholes to make their effective tax rates less than those of many middle-class families.
Alexander worked in 2013 to foster a bipartisan compromise on legislation that lowered rates to 3.86 percent for the 2013-2014 school year.