Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell challenged Democrats to respond to a GOP offer to pay for a deal to keep student loan interest rates from doubling next month.
Republican leaders have managed to shift the narrative on student loans in their favor, leaving Democrats and the White House flat-footed on an issue they thought they owned.
Democrats appear flummoxed by last week’s offer from House and Senate Republican leaders to pay for the $6 billion cost of delaying the doubling of student loan interest rates with proposals culled from President Barack Obama’s own budget blueprint. Indeed, Democrats are still talking about an earlier Republican bill that would have cut a program from Obama’s health care overhaul instead.
The offer, proposed in a letter to the White House, has gone five days without a response — and on Tuesday, Republicans were more than happy to pin the obstructionist label on the other party.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bashed the White House for not responding to the GOP’s offer even as Vice President Joseph Biden was set to hold an event at the White House on college costs.
“Why doesn’t the vice president just pick up the phone, choose one of the proposals we laid out in our letter and then announce at this meeting that the problem’s been solved?” McConnell asked. “That way he’ll give these folks some good news to bring back to their campuses, instead of just asking them to be props in this elaborate farce the White House political team cooked up on this issue. ... The only people dragging their feet on this issue are over at the White House.”
Biden seemed stuck on last week’s talking points.
“I hope to lord Congress decides to get serious about it and stop playing — my word — playing games” and taking it out of health care, Biden said. “This should not be that hard.”
Biden was asked by a pool reporter about the new GOP proposal.
“We’re looking at what [Speaker] John Boehner says he’s now going back and ... we’re wide open to listen to him,” Biden said. But, “we’re not going to trade off student loans for other vital, vital programs.”
But the new GOP offsets are ones the White House itself has proposed separately.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also wouldn’t talk about specifics of the offer during a Tuesday press conference at the White House.
“If it’s a serious proposal, then we’ll entertain it seriously,” he said. “Again, I don’t know all the details. I have a lot of respect for Sen. McConnell, and he’s very serious about this. We want to sit down with him and Speaker Boehner and everybody else who wants to get this done and get it done.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.