House GOP Successfully Trolls Democrats on Student Loan Hikes

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 10 2013 1:54 PM

House GOP Successfully Trolls Democrats on Student Loan Hikes

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Move along to the Senate, nothing to see here.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Is there any policy that can't be used for a bonus round of Washington BS kabuki? No, there is not. Exhibit Z: the current doubling of Stafford student loan interest rates from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. It went into effect last month, a result of one of the many spending deals' "oh no an election is coming up" kludges, and because most students aren't trying to lock in rates yet, there appeared to be a window in which to fix this.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

So Republicans in the House tried to fix it—and fix their reputation. They'd been outplayed in 2012, when the president blamed them for the possibility of a rate hike, so this year they passed the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, which would have tied the loan rate to bonds, fixing it around 4.4 percent this year. The vote was 221-198, with a rump of four Democrats joining all but eight Republicans. (The ayes came from Democrats in swing or GOP-leaning districts.) This allowed House Republicans to say, as John Boehner kept saying, that they had "acted."

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Democrats (in both houses) prefered to just extend the 3.2 percent rate. Today the Senate held a cloture vote that would have allowed a vote on such a plan. Every single Republican voted against it, joined by one Democrat, Joe Manchin, and one independent, Angus King.* (Harry Reid voted against it in order to retain the ability to bring it up later.)

So what's the headline? "The Senate failed," of course.

An effort to restore lower interest rates on student loans has failed in the Senate. The White House and most Senate Democrats favored restoring interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans to 3.4 percent for another year. But lawmakers on Wednesday were unable to muster the necessary 60 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle.

That AP story, like many stories on the vote, doesn't describe the actual breakdown of senators. But what happened, as usual, was that a majority of senators wanted to move ahead, and a filibuster stopped them. The low attention paid to the topic allowed John Boehner to claim that the Senate hadn't really even tried to do anything: "Republicans acted to protect students from higher interest rates and make college more affordable, yet Senate Democratic leaders let student loan interest rates double without passing any legislation to address the issue." They did have legislation, but Republicans want you to look past the people who filibustered it and think that the House, with its plan that would actually raise rates somewhat, is the only body acting. Rather than having anyone take the lead on a compromise, 51 percent of the membership of one house is going to try to message the hell out of this, and 51 percent of the other house will respond.

*King cast a somewhat rare, bona fides-building vote against the Democrats he caucuses with. New Jersey's temporary Republican Sen. Jeff Chiesa cast a somewhat rare vote with his party—he's typically voted with Democrats since replacing one of them last month.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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