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Democrats defy Obama and Republicans as student loan rates double
Standing on the Capitol steps Monday with students who said they may not be able to finish college without help from federal student loans, House Republicans on Monday called for President Obama to pressure members of his own party to accept a bipartisan solution to keep rates from doubling.
Student loan rates rose July 1 after Congress failed to agree on a solution to keep them at the 3.4 percent rate enacted in 2010. The Republican-led House passed a bill that would have tied future rates to those of Treasury notes, similar to a solution Mr. Obama proposed. Senate Democrats balked and scuttled a bipartisan compromise, leaving rates to double to 6.4 percent.
"As members of Congress, we're here to make life easier for students that want to go to college, want to get an education, want to find a job," House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said Monday as she and other GOP leaders rallied with students to call on the Senate to pass a bill.
Republicans say the rate increases have given them an opening to charge Democrats with obstruction after years of being the butts of those charges.
Key to the Republicans' claim is the dispute between Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats.
Like House Republicans, the White House proposed letting interest rates float at a rate tied to Treasury's 10-year note — though Mr. Obama proposed locking in the loan at the first-year rate, where the GOP proposal would allow the rate to continue to float.
Senate Democratic leaders have said they want to push the debate on loans into a broader discussion of higher education next year, and in the meantime extend the 3.4 percent rate, which Mr. Obama and Republicans say is fiscally unsustainable.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said White House aides acknowledged that the president's proposal could allow rates to rise above 6 percent, which could put them even higher than current law. When the rates doubled July 1, they were capped at 6.8 percent.
Mr. Reid said that also is a problem with the House bill.
"Right now, what they've done over there is worse than doing nothing at all," Mr. Reid said.
He filed a motion to set up a filibuster vote Wednesday on a Democratic proposal to keep loans at 3.4 percent, and paying for it by ending special tax breaks.
House Democrats accused Republicans of not wanting to negotiate and instead searching for a political issue.
"It is disturbing that House Republicans are only interested in shifting the blame for their refusal to compromise — and for its consequences," said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
Even though the rates rose at the beginning of this month, all sides agree that any solution can be made retroactive.
Mr. Obama was traveling overseas in late June and was not in Washington to try to fashion a compromise, but White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the differences are small and the president remains committed to finding an agreement.
"We need to do it in a way that students are guaranteed a low rate and so that they're not overcharged in order to pay down the deficit," Mr. Carney said.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama must show leadership with members of his own party on this issue.
"When you have a bipartisan group in the Senate who had a solution that was not far off from our solution, and yet shot down by the majority leader, you begin to wonder whether they're looking for a solution," Mr. Boehner said.
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