A Democratic measure to temporarily reverse the doubling of interest rates on millions of government-subsidized student loans fell short in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, but negotiations continued on a possible compromise to halt the increase.
Proponents needed 60 votes to succeed with the plan to roll back rates but got only 51, with the tally splitting along party lines.
Interest rates doubled to 6.8 percent on subsidized Stafford loans on July 1 because of congressional inaction to hold them steady heading into the next school year.
Republicans are pushing for a broader approach, saying any new costs for government-backed loans must be covered with budget cuts in other programs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said negotiations on a compromise are making progress.
This summer's fight is similar to the one that took place last year when Congress acted to avert an increase in the middle of a presidential campaign.
Student loan debt has skyrocketed in recent years, as have delinquencies, making it a pressing political and financial issue for millions of Americans.
A Federal Reserve Bank of New York report last year highlighted the scope of the problem, showing that student loan debt increased to $956 billion. That is more than auto loan debt or credit card debt.
For the class of 2013, much of the debt is in government loans, with graduates owing an average of $26,000, according to a Fidelity survey of 750 college graduates.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the senior Republican on the Senate's education committee, said Wednesday's vote was "the failure of a bad idea – the Senate voted against a short-term political fix that would have left 7 million middle-income students twisting in the wind and helped low-income students for just one year.
"We must focus our attention now on a long-term solution such as the president supports, the House of Representatives has passed, and a group of Republican, Democratic, and Independent senators have proposed."
(This story includes a TSD staff report.)