For a few months, there’s been a simmering fight over student loans that wasn’t expected to be one of the year’s big fights. To briefly recap, Congress has until June 30 to act on student loan interest rates, or rates will double for over 7 million students, who’ll face an average of $1,000 in additional debt.
The assumption has long been that policymakers would work something out before the deadline, but that deadline is just a week away, and there’s no bill on the table.
Yesterday, President Obama once again spoke on the issue at the White House.
”This should be a no-brainer,” Obama told a group of students gathered in the East Room. “It should not be difficult. It should’ve gotten done weeks ago.”
So, what’s the hold up? There are two competing plans, which, not surprisingly, vary based on financing. The House plan would keep student loan interest rates where they are, but pay for it by cutting access to breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings. Senate Democrats offered an alternative, paying for the lower rates by closing a tax loophole that currently allows some very wealthy people to shield some of their earnings from the payroll tax (the S-corp provision). Republicans killed the proposal with yet another filibuster.
As Laura Clawson noted yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has argued that since the House bill passed the lower chamber, and the Senate bill died, the Senate should go ahead and “pass the House bill and the president should sign it, regardless of what exactly is in the House bill.”
That, of course, isn’t going to happen.
What is going to happen? As of three weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested he’d simply let interest rates go up, regardless of the consequences, but as of late yesterday, there were some hints of legislative progress.
National Journal reports that Senate Democrats believe “they are close” to working out an agreement.
“We have great hope that we can get that done,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, citing progress made in a series of meetings over the last 48 hours. “While we’re not there, we’re well down the road,” he added.
Leadership aides said that those meetings primarily involve Reid staffers and aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is informed of the progress but his office is not a primary negotiator, GOP aides said.
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who said he discussed the potential agreement with Reid, said a deal that prevents interest rates from doubling could be reached within days.
“We are very close,” Harkin said.
Politico reported the same thing, quoting Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) saying, “I think we’re very close to an agreement.”
The details of the agreement are unclear, at least for now. What’s more, there have been other instances in which a bipartisan agreement has come together in the Senate, only to have House Republicans announce that it’s not good enough.
But as of last night, there was widespread optimism that a deal would be reached before the deadline.