The House will vote Friday on a Republican bill preventing interest rates on federal student loans from doubling this summer, paid for by cutting money from President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday.
The abrupt announcement by Boehner, R-Ohio, came with Obama and congressional Democrats clamoring daily for action to prevent today's 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans from automatically increasing to 6.8 percent on July 1.
That election-year increase, set by law unless Congress blocks it, would affect 7.4 million students at a time when both parties are competing for the affection of young voters. Each is also trying to show voters that it knows best how to shield people from pain inflicted by the weak economy.
Boehner told reporters that Obama has been "trying to invent a fight where there wasn't and never has been one" and said, "We can and will fix the problem without a bunch of campaign-style theatrics."
He added, "What Washington shouldn't be doing is exploiting the challenges that young Americans face for political gain."
Republicans would pay for their one-year, $5.9 billion measure from a $17 billion prevention and public health fund Obama's law created for immunization campaigns, research, screenings and wellness education. Republicans promptly dubbed it a "slush fund" and have sought to cut it to finance a variety of projects that they favor. There is $13.5 billion left in the fund for the coming decade, according to the administration.
Senate Democrats have introduced their own version of the legislation. It, too, would keep student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year. It would be paid for by increasing the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes owed by upper-income owners of some privately held corporations, including many lawyers' and doctors' practices.
Senate Republicans have voiced adamant opposition to that payroll tax proposal.
Earlier Wednesday, Obama spoke to students at the University of Iowa, using his third campus visit in two days to talk up Democrats' efforts to keep student loans affordable and bash Republicans.
"Some of them suggest that students like you have to pay more so we can help bring down the deficit. Now, think about that. These are the same folks who ran up the deficits for the last decade. They voted to keep giving billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies who are raking in record profits. They voted to let millionaires and billionaires keep paying lower tax rates than middle-class workers," Obama said.
Speaking before Boehner's remarks, Obama said House Republicans were indicating that they would only extend the rate by cutting other student aid, a path the GOP did not follow.
Without mentioning him by name, Obama also took a swipe at Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., a GOP Senate candidate who said the government shouldn't be involved in the student loan market and, Obama said, compared it to a "stage 3 cancer of socialism." Obama said, "I don't know where to start. What do you mean? What are you talking about?"
Akin used the cancer reference at an April 2 forum to describe the federal government's involvement in areas he said should be left alone. He also criticized Democrats for eliminating private student loans and having that lending taken over by the government.
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