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.
But so far, Republicans complain they can’t get anyone from the White House to give them a call. Boehner’s office released a “Post-it” note addressed to Biden reiterating the Republican offer.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) questioned whether the GOP was acting in good faith. Reid referenced a Politico report from last week that said Boehner told his Conference a deal this month on student loans was unlikely on the same day Republican leaders sent their letter to the White House. The Ohio Republican reportedly called it a “phony” debate.
“When in doubt, wave your arms, scream and shout. That’s what they’re doing,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “This is all just a game that’s being played. ... If they want to negotiate in good faith, we’ll do that. But you can’t have someone sending a letter one day saying, ‘Let’s sit down and talk,’ when they say to their caucus, ‘We’re not going to extend this reduction.’”
Reid said he plans to bring up the massive five-year farm bill next, which could take weeks of floor debate. And with the House and Senate taking alternating breaks, the timeline to get a student loan agreement done before rates double on July 1 is short.
That deadline pressure, however, could work to lawmakers’ benefit. Even in one of the most dysfunctional Congresses on record, Members have found ways to strike deals before laws expire.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he saw a place to at least start talks with Republicans in their letter to Obama. And though he stopped short of saying he was “optimistic” about a deal, Durbin said he is “realistic” and that “with a deadline, we’ve got a chance.”
“The deadline is coming. July 1 is coming. We’ll be back on it, as will the White House, because it’s a viable issue, an important issue,” Durbin said. “The fact that Republicans made an offer is rare around here, and although the first section of the offer is, I think, totally unacceptable, the second section at least opens the conversation, which is I think a good start.”
The GOP offered two options to Democrats. The first, which Durbin said would be unacceptable to his party, would offset the costs of the student loan bill with an increase to federal employee retirement contributions by 1.2 percent over three years.
The second option was a combination of three pay-fors: limiting the duration of borrowers’ in-school interest subsidy for Stafford loans, revising the Medicaid provider tax threshold and improving state and local pension collection information.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.