House passes GOP bill to keep student loan rates low, but Democrats will kill it

Rates on popular student loans would be barred from doubling as scheduled on July 1 under Republican-authored legislation that the House of Representatives passed Friday – but the change would be funded by slashing money from a fund for disease prevention and public health.

Forget that, the White House said about the 215-195 vote, in which most Republicans voted yes and most Democrats voted no.

“This is a politically motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America’s college students deserves,” the Obama administration said in a statement threatening to veto the measure.

The loan rate for subsidized Stafford loans, now 3.4 percent, will rise to 6.8 percent for more than 7 million students on July 1 if the law is not changed. Such loans, which benefit undergraduates, would add another $1,000 in debt for the average student, according to the White House.

Democrats want the rate frozen, too, but were livid at the GOP for its method of paying the $5.9 billion price.

“To take health care away from middle-class and low-income families in order to keep interest rates from rising for middle-class and low-income college students is simply wrong. It’s robbing Peter to pay Peter,” said Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Republicans insisted that their proposal was serious.

“Students and families are struggling in President Obama’s economy. Nearly half of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and laws like Obamacare have only made it harder for small businesses to hire them,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “That’s why House Republicans voted to extend current student loan rates and to pay for it by eliminating an Obamacare slush fund President Obama himself proposed cutting from his budget.”

Senate Democrats want to pay for the lower loan rate by increasing payroll taxes on some privately held firms. Republicans are expected to resist the higher taxes. The Senate is scheduled to consider the student loan issue when it returns to work on May 8 after a recess.

This week’s House debate was a preview of politics to come, as both parties eagerly court the youth vote. While polls show President Barack Obama with a huge lead among 18- to 29-year-old voters, there is concern whether they will turn out in big numbers.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tried to defuse the issue earlier this week, saying he, too, favors lower student loan rates. But Obama then pushed the issue hard during trips to college campuses in Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina.

By midweek, congressional Republicans announced they’d push legislation to pay for the rate cut from the health fund, which Democrats say is of particular help to women. Among the fund’s goals are to help discourage tobacco use, increase immunization and combat obesity, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

“By bringing a bill to the floor that says we will do this, but we will only reduce the interest rates by making an assault on women’s health, (is) a continuation of their assault on women’s health,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the Republicans.

Republicans countered that the White House is engaged in what Boehner called “silly” politics.

“To pick this big political fight where there is no fight is just silly. Give me a break," he told the House, as Republicans cheered.

The bill passed on a largely party-line vote; 202 Republicans and 13 Democrats voted yes, while 30 Republicans and 165 Democrats were opposed.

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