President Barack Obama waves to students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., on Friday while speaking on the interest rates of federal student loans.
Republicans are determined to stop Democrats from turning this week’s student loan interest rate debate into a political issue, even as the GOP prepares to oppose parts of the Democratic plan.
“The conversation is now over the pay-for, not whether to do it, as Democrats had hoped,” a Senate GOP aide said, adding Republicans want to pay for it in a responsible way.
In a sign of their desire to downplay the partisan tensions, Senate Republicans on Tuesday are expected to help Democrats reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle to bringing the measure to the floor.
By agreeing with Democrats on the outcome, Republicans have sought to head off Democratic efforts to try to paint them as out of touch with students — a potentially key part of the electorate that each side is vying for ahead of the November election.
The Senate GOP aide credited presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for taking the issue “off the table” when he said that he, too, supports passage legislation that would extend current law and keep the interest rates on Stafford loans at 3.4 percent.
Nevertheless, at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., on Friday, President Obama rallied students to urge Congress to pass legislation that would avoid the doubling of Stafford loan interest rates, which would surge to 6.8 percent if Congress does not act by July 1.
“For each year that Congress doesn’t act, the average student, with these Stafford loans, will rack up an additional thousand dollars in debt,” Obama said. “That’s like a thousand-dollar tax hike for more than 7 million students across America.”
“Now, let me ask: Is that something that you can afford if you’re going to college?” Obama asked the audience.
The president’s comments capped off a week in which Democrats tried to lay down their markers for the Tuesday vote on the student loan bill, which would cover the $6 billion cost of preventing the rise in interest rates by eliminating a corporate tax loophole that allows wealthy individuals to pay less in Social Security and Medicare taxes.
In an attempt to blunt Democratic criticism and show they have the same goal to prevent interest rate increases, the GOP-led House passed a student loan bill that would be paid for by eliminating a fund in the 2010 health care overhaul that covers prevention and public health. The House bill passed 215-195 on April 27, after a week in which Obama and Congressional Democrats raised the specter that GOP opposition could imperil the effort.
The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, calling it a “politically motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America’s college students deserves.”