Senate Blocks Dueling Student Loan Bills

The Senate filibustered two partisan bills today designed to prevent student loan rates from doubling on July 1.

Senate Republicans offered a bill, which only garnered 40 "yes" votes, that would have tied student loan interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note rate plus 3 percentage-points. Fifty-seven senators voted against the measure, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Delaware Democrat Thomas R. Carper voted with Republicans in favor of the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to Coburn’s bill. Five Republicans — Sens. Michael D. Crapo and Jim Risch, both of Idaho, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania — voted against the motion.

The Democrats' legislation would have extended current law for two years while paying for the lower student loan rates by closing certain tax loopholes. It failed to garner the necessary 60 votes on a 51-46 vote.

Meanwhile, the White House has threatened to veto a House bill that did not lock the rates of loans at the time they were acquired.

Congress now has three weeks to come up with a solution, otherwise the student loan rate will jump in July to 6.8 percent from the current level of 3.4.

"Let's sit down between now and July 1 and come up with a bipartisan solution once and for all," Sen. Richard M. Burr said before votes on the Democrats' bill began. The North Carolina Republican was a co-sponsor of the GOP bill.

Democrats and Republicans planned to hold back-to-back news conferences mid-day Thursday prove their political points. As we reported earlier this week, Senate Democrats love the politics of the student loan debate almost as much as, if not more than, the actual policy.

Last summer, Congress also pushed the student loan debate to its July deadline.

UPDATE: At a press conference after the votes, Democratic leaders could not specify what they did not like about the Senate GOP alternative. Reid said that the White House would veto "the Republican bill," which is only partially true. The administration said it would veto the House Republican bill, primarily on the grounds that the House bill would not lock in rates for the life of the loan. When pressed by WGDB about the Senate GOP alternative, which does lock in rates, Reid said such a claim was Republican spin. It's clear the two sides, at least on the Senate end of the Capitol, are closer than they appear on the issue. But again, Democrats think the student loan debate makes for good politics, so for now, conflating the two bills suits their purposes.