- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, is single-handedly blocking Senate action on legislation all but unanimously supported by the House to ease the student-loan burden for soldiers fighting overseas.

In April, the House voted 421-1 to pass the HEROES Act, which essentially would defer student loans for soldiers called into action. The only dissenting vote was cast accidentally by one of the bill’s sponsors.

The bill is stalled in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under a “secret hold,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and chairman of the committee.

Senate tradition allows members to lodge secret, or “anonymous,” holds against a bill and block it indefinitely.

Supporters of the bill, the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, were mystified for months that anyone would hold up such popular legislation, but couldn’t pinpoint the culprit.

“It’s frustrating when something has such overwhelming support and then it gets held up like this,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican.

Mr. Gregg and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, became so frustrated that last month they wrote a letter telling a colleague that the bill “has been held up in the Senate and is unlikely to pass” in its current form.

In their letter to Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, Mr. Gregg and Mr. Graham asked that their HEROES proposal be slipped into the defense spending bill in the Armed Services Committee, which Mr. Warner leads.

Capitol Hill speculation about the secret hold eventually centered on Mr. Edwards, one of four senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

“Apparently, presidential politics got involved,” Mr. Kline said.

One Republican staffer on the Senate education panel said Mr. Edwards is holding up the bill so that he can take top credit for passing it later.

“Edwards likes this issue and he wants to see his name on it,” the staffer said.

Mr. Edwards and his office initially denied responsibility for blocking the bill at all.

“I just talked to Senator Edwards,” Mr. Graham said as he stepped off the Senate floor last week. “He said if he has a hold on it, he didn’t know about it. He didn’t even know about the bill.”

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