The student loan interest rate legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate appears to face a clear path in the House, where Republicans wasted no time pointing out that the proposal closely mirrors their original plan.
The office of House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, blasted out an email before the Senate vote noting the similarities between the bipartisan Senate compromise and the House bill (HR 1911) passed in May. Both shift from a fixed interest rate to variable, market-based rates pegged to the 10-year Treasury note, similar to what President Barack Obama proposed in his fiscal 2014 budget.
“I’m pleased that Senate Democrats finally joined Republicans to pass a bill to provide a permanent, market-based solution on student loans,” Boehner said in a statement after the Senate vote. “The House will act expeditiously.”
A senior GOP leadership aide called the final agreement “not just a win for students and taxpayers, it’s also a policy and political win for House Republicans.”
Some Democrats in both chambers had pushed for Congress to pass another extension of the fixed 3.4 percent interest rate on the subsidized portion of the Stafford loan, which doubled to 6.8 percent July 1 because lawmakers did not act. When the Senate approved the bill 81-18 Wednesday, 16 Democrats and one independent voted no, despite the White House’s endorsement.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., co-author of the House bill and chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, applauded the Senate passage of the legislation.
“For more than a year, Republicans have been fighting for a long-term solution to the student loan interest rate problem, and I am pleased we finally have a Senate agreement worthy of public support,” Kline said. “The legislation approved today reflects the policies and priorities of the House-passed [bill]. I look forward to the bill’s swift passage in the House.”
Last summer, Congress passed a one-year extension (PL 112-141) of the fixed 3.4 percent interest rate after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney urged Republican lawmakers to go along amid heavy lobbying by Obama. Republicans made clear soon after that they had no appetite for another extension, particularly since the White House backed shifting to a variable interest rate in its budget in April.
Fast House Vote Expected
The Senate approved its compromise as a substitute amendment to the House bill. Kline said the new version of the bill could come to the House floor as early as Thursday under suspension of the rules, but it was unclear whether it has enough support to supply the required two-thirds majority.
“There might be votes to pass it under suspension,” Kline said. “I don’t know that.”
Aides familiar with the bill said the House vote is more likely to occur next week. Boehner is expected to provide more details on a timeline during his regular Thursday morning news conference.
“I would hope that we would take it up immediately,” said George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee.
Miller said he expects the legislation to garner broad bipartisan support in the House, noting, “There’s not a better proposal on the table.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.