The House voted Friday to extend the current 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized student loans for one more year.
The rate is set to double to 6.8 percent on July 1 and has become a hot political issue this week.
President Obama visited several college campuses to prod Congress into extending the Stafford loan rates. His Republican rival, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, reversed an earlier stance and said he too supported extending the low interest rates on student loans (see Student Loan Interest Rates Set to Double).
Congressional Republican leaders claimed they had always planned to extend the current rates before they expired. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused Obama of using taxpayer-funded trips to the college campuses for his re-election campaign to attract young voters while making a political issue out of the loan rate extension.
To pay for the $5.9 billion cost of the extension, House Republicans introduced a bill, sponsored by Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., that would use funds from Obama’s signature health care reform law that were originally intended for preventive treatment and public health. Democrats oppose that offset, but the bill passed mostly along party lines on a 215-195 vote, with 13 Democrats joining Republicans to approve it.
“Students and families are struggling in President Obama’s economy,” Boehner said in a statement. “Nearly half of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and laws like ObamaCare have only made it harder for small businesses to hire them. 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. It’s time for the President and Democrats in Congress to stop exploiting the challenges facing young Americans for political gain, and start working with Republicans to create a better environment for private-sector job growth.”
The White House has issued a veto threat over the use of the health care funds. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., argued that it would remove funds that were intended to provide health care for families, particularly women and children. “They want to take the funds from women’s health and then also childhood immunizations,” she said. “We should be taking the money from the tax subsidies that go to Big Oil in our country,” she added. She is pushing an alternative that would eliminate some tax breaks for oil companies to offset the cost of the extension.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to schedule a vote on May 8, according to USA Today, on an alternative bill that would pay for the cost of the student loan interest rate extension by raising the threshold of income subject to Medicare taxes for those making over $250,000 a year.
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