John Katko

U.S. Rep. John Katko, center, and state Assemblyman Gary Finch, right, greet employees during shift change Oct. 26 at Auburn Correctional Facility.

U.S. Rep. John Katko doesn't agree with Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on much, but they're allies on a bill to address student loan debt. 

The proposed legislation, the Student Borrower Bankruptcy Relief Act, would change federal law and allow student loan debt to be discharged through the bankruptcy process. 

Under existing law, student loan debt can't be discharged in a vast majority of cases. Other forms of debt — credit cards and medical bills — can be discharged through bankruptcy. 

Lawmakers supporting the bill explained that before 1976, student loan debt could be discharged through bankruptcy proceedings. Congress acted to limit the ability to discharge student loans, including a 1998 law that prevents student loans from being discharged until there's an "undue hardship." 

In 2005, Congress passed legislation that prevents private student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy. 

With the proposal, lawmakers hope to address student loan debt as it continues to rise. An estimated 44 million Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans. 

Katko, R-Camillus, joined U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, to introduce the House version of the bill. Warren and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, introduced the bill in the Senate. 

"While Congress must continue to work to make college more affordable and accessible, Americans struggling financially should have the option to discharge their student loans during bankruptcy as a last resort," Katko said in a statement. "This bipartisan legislation makes that change." 

A list of the House cosponsors wasn't immediately available, but it appears Katko is the lone Republican supporting the measure. In the Senate, the bill is backed by Warren and other Democratic presidential candidates, including U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders. 

Warren said she fought proposals over the years that prevents borrowers from discharging student loans in bankruptcy. 

"But over and over again, Congress chipped away at this critical protection for student loan borrowers," she said. "The Student Borrowers Bankruptcy Relief Act fully restores this protection, and I'm thrilled to work with Senator Durbin to fight for this legislation." 

The bill is supported by several national organizations, including Consumer Reports, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and the National Student Legal Defense Network. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.