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Senate Stumbles on Popular Legislation

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor Monday that he hopes Republicans will allow legislation on a laundry list of priorities to pass.

A bill that would extend the current student loan rate is just the latest legislation stuck in partisan limbo despite support from both parties for the overall idea.

With as few as three legislative workdays left before its recess, the Senate has stalled on measures that have bipartisan support in theory but have hit roadblocks in practice, from the student loan rate bill to a small-business tax credit.

“Earlier this month, Republicans balked at an attempt to keep higher education affordable for 7 million students, but Democrats haven’t given up. I hope our Republican colleagues will come to their senses and allow us to prevent this crisis that affects 7 million young men and women before it’s too late,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor Monday.

“We are frustrated with the slow pace of the Senate’s [action] to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, on Iran sanctions, on legislation to stop interest rates from doubling on federal student loans,” the Majority Leader said in a recitation of a laundry list of priorities that sounded like many other speeches he has given this year.

But the best example of how popular legislative ideas have stalled is the student loan rate.

The rates for some federal student loans are slated to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent if Congress does not act by July 1. Though both parties believe the bill should get done, they disagree over how to pay for it. Republicans want to take funds from the health care law, and Democrats want to close a loophole on wealthy taxpayers who classify their pay as dividends in order to avoid certain kinds of taxes.

Now the parties can’t even agree on a vote schedule. Senate Democrats are open to having a vote on a House-approved bill that includes the health care funding provision, but only if Republicans agree to open debate on the underlying bill, which they already filibustered earlier this month on a 52-45 vote.

Republicans, meanwhile, have leveraged the Food and Drug Administration user fee bill to push for their own student loan amendment, which is essentially the House bill.

So in the tussle to rack up talking points to take home with them during recess next week, Republicans and Democrats have reached an impasse, with each side digging in on its view of how the calendar should proceed.

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