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Moving in the Right Direction

House Democrats Reverse Course, Back Smart Policies in Republican Student Loan Bill

In a landslide vote, the Democrat-led Senate finally amended and approved House-passed legislation to get politicians out of the business of setting student loan interest rates. As Chairman Kline said after yesterday’s remarkable vote, “We finally have a Senate agreement worthy of public support [that] reflects the policies and priorities of the House-passed Smarter Solutions for Students Act. This is a victory for students and taxpayers.”

It’s been a long debate, so here’s a quick refresher to bring folks up to speed: To prevent a scheduled student loan interest rate hike, in May the House approved with bipartisan support H.R. 1911, the Smarter Solutions for Students Act. Based on a proposal put forth by the Obama administration, the bill provided a long-term, market-based solution that would have prevented interest rates from doubling on July 1st.

But instead of bringing H.R. 1911 up for a vote in the Senate right away, Democrats engaged in weeks of political infighting and, as a result of their inaction, rates doubled. Faced with angry students and mounting public pressure, the Senate finally got down to the real business of negotiating a permanent solution and approved an amended version of H.R. 1911.

Now that a compromise has been reached, Democrats who once adamantly opposed any long-term, market-based solution to the student loan interest rate problem have suddenly reversed course and voiced support for H.R. 1911. The Senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, who previously said tying rates to the free market will “make college more expensive” and claimed H.R. 1911 was “dead on arrival,” is now touting H.R. 1911 as “a bill that helps students and families” and “delivers real relief to millions of Americans.”

It’s interesting to see Democrats so readily embrace a proposal that is nearly identical to the House-passed bill that drew such ire. In fact, press reports nationwide highlight the similarities between the House and Senate proposals:

The bipartisan proposal would link interest rates on federal student loans to the financial markets, providing lower interest rates right away… The measure was similar to one that already had passed the Republican-led House and leaders from both chambers said they predicted the differences to be resolved before students start signing loan documents for the fall term.Boston Globe

Both [the House and Senate legislation] 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.Roll Call

A bipartisan Senate compromise on student loans is heading to House, where lawmakers there already have voted to link interest rates with the financial markets…The bipartisan Senate bill links interest rates to the financial markets. It is similar to the bill that already had passed the Republican-led House and is like the proposal in Obama's budget earlier this year.Associated Press

The bill will now head to the U.S. House, where swift approval is anticipated. The Senate compromise closely resembles a bill that House Republicans, led by U.S. Rep. John Kline, passed this spring.Minneapolis Star Tribune

This passage follows weeks of negotiation and increasing White House pressure…Republicans in both chambers criticized Senate Democrats for slowing the process. The bill now heads to the House, which previously supported a similar measure. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged to take up this version "expeditiously."Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Such a dramatic shift raises questions about whether earlier opposition to H.R. 1911 wasn’t rooted in real policy concerns, but in political games. A recent Los Angeles Times article explains:

Democratic leadership aides said some in the caucus saw value in a one-year extension that would bring the issue to a head in 2014, when the party again hopes to rally younger voters to the polls in congressional elections when turnout is typically lower.

Using students as political pawns to win an election is shameful. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed in this debate, allowing for a bipartisan compromise that works for students, families, and taxpayers.

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