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Senate GOP Blocks Student Loan Bill

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Senate Republicans today killed a Democratic bill that would prevent an increase in student loan interest rates over the measure’s offset, which they argue would hurt job creation and the economy.

The measure went down 52-45, falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The vote fell along party lines, except with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voting present and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voting against the bill in order to be able to bring it up again.

Republicans, who stressed they too want to avoid the interest rate increase, argued that Democrats — including President Barack Obama, who has made the student loans a top priority — are using the issue to score political points ahead of the November elections rather than negotiating a bipartisan offset.

“Today’s vote on student loan rates is a perfect example of this cynical election-year strategy in action,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote. “Rather than working with Republicans to help young people in this country weather the effects of the Obama economy, Democrats have sought to distract them from it.”

Republicans believe that, while the bill is intended to help students, it would actually make their job prospects even bleaker.

The Democratic student loan bill would cover the $6 billion cost of preventing the rise in interest rates by eliminating a corporate tax loophole that allows wealthy individuals to pay less in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Republicans and business groups oppose the offset, which they believe would make businesses less likely to hire by increasing their tax burden. Senate Republicans prefer the offset used in a House-passed bill, which would eliminate a fund in the 2010 health care overhaul — a law Republicans are eager to repeal — that covers prevention and public health.

“The real solution, of course, are pro-growth policies that make it easier for U.S. businesses to hire,” McConnell said. “But in the short term, Republicans are ready to offer temporary relief. ... Republicans propose to end an ‘Obamacare’ slush fund that Democrats and the president himself have already drawn from to cover other expenses.”

The health care offset was used to help pay for an extension of the payroll tax cut in February, and Republicans argue that since Democrats agreed to it then they should agree to it on the student loan measure to keep Stafford loan interest rates from doubling beginning July 1.

But Democrats maintain there is no more room to cut in the preventive fund, which they argue will help save money by helping treating illnesses before they become chronic and expensive to treat. Democrats also contend that the Republican offset is an effort to further the GOP goal of repealing the health care law, which Democrats pushed through Congress.

“Republicans will try to explain away their ‘no’ votes by claiming they oppose the way the legislation is paid for,” Reid said before the vote. “They propose radical cuts to a preventive health care fund instead — a proposal they know Democrats oppose.”

“They’re sending a clear message they would rather protect wealthy tax dodgers than help promising students achieve their dreams of higher education,” Reid continued.

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