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Republican filibuster derails student loan bill

Republican filibuster derails student loan bill
Republican filibuster derails student loan bill

Congress already missed its deadline last week on protecting student-loan interest rates from spiking, but Senate Democrats had a plan to keep the lower rates in place for another year while negotiations continued on a more permanent solution.

That bill reached the floor this afternoon, and a majority of senators supported it. But in today's Senate, we don't count whether a bill has a majority -- we count whether a bill can overcome a Republican filibuster.

The Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a bill backed by Democratic leaders that would keep student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year.In a 51-49 vote, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster and proceed with the bill.

It would have been 52-48 but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had to switch his vote for procedural reasons. Regardless, literally every Republican in the chamber supported the filibuster, as did Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine), who prefer a separate compromise bill that ties interest rates to the 10-year Treasury rate.

At the risk of sounding picky about these things, most of the reports I've seen say the Senate "failed" to pass the student-loan bill. But that's not what happened -- if the bill came up for a vote, it would pass. Rather, what happened is that a minority of the Senate decided keeping student-loan interest rates at a lower level is so offensive, it wouldn't even allow members to vote up or down on the idea.

It really wasn't that radical an idea. The Democratic plan would have kept interest rates at 3.4% -- exactly where they have been for the past few years -- at a cost of about $4.6 billion. The bill wouldn't have raised taxes or increased the deficit, but rather, would have been paid for by closing a tax loophole on IRS inheritances. This is what needed to die at the hands of a filibuster.

The House, which doesn't allow filibusters, passed a GOP alternative that would have allowed interest rates on student loans to go up, which Democrats in both chambers consider a non-starter.

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Republicans acted to protect students from higher interest rates and make college more affordable, yet Senate Democratic leaders let student loan interest rates double without passing any legislation to address the issue." Either Boehner doesn't know that Senate filibusters exist or he assumes Americans are ignorant and easily fooled by deliberately misleading talking points. I'm assuming it's the latter.