Thursday, July 12, 2007

The House yesterday approved a Democrat-crafted bill that would spend about $18 billion to combat the high cost of college, but Republicans and the White House argued it creates costly entitlement programs and does not focus on the neediest students.

President Bush has threatened to veto the measure, which was approved by the House yesterday, 273-149, with 47 Republicans joining 226 Democrats in support.

Democrats repeatedly praised the bill as the largest effort to help families pay for college since the 1944 G.I. Bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the “historic” measure “strengthens the future for our students and it strengthens our nation.”

It would cut some $19 billion in federal subsidies to student-loan companies and direct about $18 billion of that savings to a laundry list of efforts Democrats said would help students.

Republicans complained yesterday that the bill — under the guise of helping students — creates nine new entitlement programs.

“This legislation is nothing more than a Trojan horse for new entitlement spending,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

The bill would direct roughly $18 billion to efforts, including boosting the maximum Pell Grant award for needy students by $500 over five years, cutting the student loan interest rate in half, ensuring graduates won’t have to spend more than 15 percent of their annual income on student-loan repayments and providing loan forgiveness for graduates who choose public-service careers.

Education committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, said it will “take this country in a new direction.”

Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to the bill’s new entitlement spending, which includes $375 million for scholarships to students who will teach high-need subjects for four years, $50 million to improve teacher preparation programs at minority-serving colleges and $300 million to companies doing philanthropic activities to improve college access and retention.

Republicans also complained that Democrats moved the bill under a special budget process that protects it from a Senate filibuster. Many Republicans said this process was designed to reduce the deficit and cut down on entitlement spending but that Democrats used it to do just the opposite. The bill would provide $750 million to reduce the deficit and spend about $18 billion.

Democrats angrily said Republicans have no right to lecture on fiscal responsibility because they and Mr. Bush cut billions in student aid.

“The cost of this bill is the cost of six weeks in Iraq,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

But Republicans insisted that more money should be directed toward paying down the deficit and further boosting the Pell Grant program, which targets the neediest students. Mr. McKeon offered a substitute version that would have cut lender subsidies by $15 billion, paid down the deficit by nearly $6 billion, and directed $9 billion to the Pell Grant program. It was defeated, 231-189.

Republicans also tried to send the bill back to committee, but were turned back, 223-199.

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