Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted that Democrats and Republicans will be able to work together to pass legislation to avert a politically damaging increase in student loan interest rates.
“Democrats and Republicans have been working together to get this resolved and I believe that we will,” Boehner said today on CNN’s "State of the Union."
The House passed a bill Friday, 215-195, that would prevent the 3.4 percent interest rate on student loans from doubling starting July 1 and pay for the $6 billion cost of the bill by eliminating a fund in the 2010 health care overhaul that covers prevention and public health. The bill received 13 Democratic votes and all but 30 Republicans supported it.
“What we are trying to do here is deal with this problem in a responsible way,” Boehner said.
His comments come after President Barack Obama visited three universities last week where he urged Congress to extend a 2007 law that cut student loan rates to 3.4 percent. If lawmakers don’t pass legislation to keep the current interest rate of Stafford loans, approximately 7.4 million students with federal student loans would see their interest rates double on July 1, which would mean the average student would pay an additional $1,000 in interest for each year that Congress allows the higher rate, according to the Department of Education.
But 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.”
Senate Democrats plan to consider a bill after the recess that would avert the interest rate hike and cover the $6 billion cost by requiring more wealthy individuals to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll tax.
“If the Senate wants to do a different pay for that will be up to them, but we will have this issue resolved,” Boehner said.
Boehner chastised the president for worrying about his re-election and “picking a fight where there is no fight,” rather than trying to work with Republicans to find bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.
“The president is getting some very bad advice from his campaign team,” Boehner said. “He is diminishing the presidency by picking fake fights, going after straw men every day.”
Along with the student loan fracas, Boehner listed Democratic efforts to pass legislation that would require millionaires pay at least a 30 percent tax rate, known as the Buffett rule for billionaire businessman Warren Buffett. Republicans oppose the idea because they believe it would raise taxes on small businesses and make them less inclined to hire.
Boehner recently put the odds of Democrats taking back the majority at one in three, but on Sunday he appeared more confident, though he stressed that nothing could be take for granted.
“If the election were today, I'm very optimistic that we will hold our majority,” Boehner said. “But my job is to make sure that, even under a worst-case scenario, we're able to hold onto our majority. So ... what I'm trying to do is to wake some people up and realize that we've got a challenge here. And we've got 242 Republicans in Congress that are all up for election, 53 of them in pretty tough races.”
On the presidential campaign, Boehner said that he has not yet spoken with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, but expects to in the near future.
“He called and I called him back. We've kind of traded some ... some voice-mails. But I expect that I will soon,” Boehner said.
Asked about possible running mates for Romney, Boehner said that Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels would all be solid choices.
“There are a lot of people that I like,” Boehner said. “But this is a personal choice for Gov. Romney. And I'm confident he'll have a running mate that will be helpful to the ticket.”
“I think the number one quality is, are they capable of being president in the case of an emergency?” Boehner continued, adding that Rubio, Portman and Daniels would all fit the bill.
Boehner also said he’s pleased with his House leadership over the past 16 months, pointing to the lack of earmarks. House Republicans and Senate Democrats agreed to take a break from Member directed spending in appropriations bill for the current Congress.
“Who could imagine,” Boehner said of the earmark issue. “It’s made my job a lot more difficult in terms of how to pass important legislation because I have no grease.” He also believes the process is more open.
But despite Boehner’s upbeat appraisal Congress’ approval rating continues to hover around single digits.
“I see the polling and I understand the American people's angst,” Boehner said. “The economy is a big problem; our national debt is a very big problem. So I understand their anxiety.
“But institutionally, my job as the speaker of the whole House, my job is to protect the institution and to strengthen the institution of the Congress,” Boehner continued. “And while people don't like the Congress, I understand that,” Boehner said.” My job is to try and make it better.”