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Expect Student Loan Standoff

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl predicted that Republicans would defeat cloture on the Democrats’ student loan bill Tuesday, but he said he thinks they will work out a compromise to prevent a rate increase.

Senate Democrats are poised to savage their GOP counterparts this week over the Republicans’ expected opposition to a bill that would prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this summer.

Though Republicans insist they want to stop the rate hike from going forward, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) indicated Monday that the Conference will likely filibuster the Democratic measure because it opposes the proposed offset.

“It’s a tough vote” for Republicans, a Senate Democratic aide said, adding that a vote Tuesday against taking up a Democratic student loan relief bill would likely be used as campaign fodder against the GOP as both parties look to curry favor with younger voters.

President Barack Obama has made a campaign issue out of the bill because interest rates on Stafford loans will jump to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent if Congress doesn’t act by July 1.

House Republicans have already passed a different version, and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he supports blocking the rate increase. But the Democratic aide said Senate Republicans will have a hard time proving their support for the issue if they vote to prevent the Democratic measure from coming to the floor. That test vote is scheduled for noon Tuesday, and Democrats need 60 votes to move forward. Democrats, who control 53 votes in the Senate, would need at least seven Republicans to vote with them to overcome a filibuster and begin debate on the bill.

Last week, Republican sources indicated they expected to allow Democrats to at least bring the bill up for debate.

Majority Leader Harry Reid attempted to apply pressure on the Senate floor Monday.

“Republicans claim they share Democrats’ goal of protecting these 7 million students,” the Nevada Democrat said. “We’ll see.”

Democratic Sens. Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) have scheduled a press conference Tuesday morning at which they intend to urge Republicans to allow the Senate to debate the bill.  

Republicans said their opposition is merely an effort to spark talks that will lead to a bipartisan offset and avoid the interest rate increase.

The Democratic legislation would cover the $6 billion cost of preventing the interest rate increase by eliminating a corporate tax loophole that allows the wealthy to pay less in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Kyl said Republicans do not expect to provide the needed votes to take up the bill.

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