Education

Republicans, Democrats slam each other on student loans

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Robby Soave Reporter
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Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray argued back and forth about student-loan reform on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, with each blaming the opposing party for the current stalemate.

Alexander implored Senate Democrats to get on board with the Burr-Manchin proposal, a compromise supported by Republicans, moderate Senate Democrats and President Obama.

The proposal would index student loan interest rates to financial markets, taking the power to set the rate out of Congress’s hands. This would lower the interest rate — which doubled last week from 3.4 to 6.8 percent — but could result in a higher rate years from now.

“I hope my friends on the other side will take a look at the Burr-Manchin proposal,” said Alexander.

The compromise is the best deal for students and taxpayers, Alexander argued.

“It’s fair to taxpayers because it won’t cost the government any money, and it’s fair to students because the government won’t be making any money,” he said.

But Murray countered with her own proposal, which would simply lock in the lower interest rate for the next three years, an idea supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and more liberal members of the Senate.

“The problem is Senate Republican leadership has insisted in all their proposals that we balance the budget on the backs of students and their families,” said Murray.

The bipartisan bill is even worse than doing nothing, she said.

“What they have introduced is a bill that includes no cap on how high student loan rates could go,” she said. “It would be better to do nothing than to pass the Republican bill.”

Alexander countered that even Obama was on the Republicans’ side, and expressed frustration that passing the Burr-Manchin bill should be easier than other recent contentious issues, like immigration reform.

“In this case the president has done his job,” he said. “A number of Democratic senators are playing political games.”

A vote on the Democratic bill is scheduled for Wednesday. Alexander predicted that at this point the Senate wouldn’t be able to pass either proposal.

Democrats may have political reasons to stall student loan reform, said one expert.

“A cynic might suggest Democrats are looking for an issue to emerge in election season next year,” said Andrew Kelly, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s an opportunity to stir up young voters, your constituency.”

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