House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) at the Capitol. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
WASHINGTON – The partisan sniping in Congress has devolved into this: letter wars.
Congressional leaders engaged in an email war of words Wednesday that extended to the White House. Democrats said the House should cancel next week’s recess and get to work, while Republicans shot back that President Obama should cancel his rally in Las Vegas and return to Washington to resolve their differences.
The first missive was fired by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the Democratic leader, who called on Republicans to cancel the House’s planned recess next week – the ninth of the year, she noted – and stay in town to resolve pressing issues. Student loan interest rates are set to double on July 1, and funding of federal transportation programs is set to expire at that time, if Congress fails to compromise.
“Instead of recessing yet again, the House should remain at work,” Pelosi wrote to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The House, which is controlled by Republicans, operates largely on a two-weeks on, one-week off schedule so lawmakers can spend more time in their home districts.
“Commit the House to working round the clock to address the highway and student loan laws, and to extend the middle-income tax cut without further delay,” Pelosi said.
Within hours, Republicans attacked the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and suggested Obama should cancel his “campaign-style event” scheduled for Thursday in Nevada and get back to work on the student loan issue.
Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said they were still waiting to hear back from the Obama administration on the GOP’s latest counter-offer to resolve the loan rate standoff.
“With rates set to double at the end of this month, we had hoped this gesture would lead to a speedy resolution of the matter,” the two Republican leaders wrote. “We urge you to consider canceling tomorrow’s Las Vegas rally and instead work with us so that we can extend these rates before they expire and stay focused on additional measures to help create jobs.”
Congress is heading toward a showdown June 30, when existing laws expire. At that time, student loan interest rates are set to double to 6.8% for new undergraduate loans in the federally subsidized Stafford program. Federal highway funding that has been extended on a temporary basis is also set to run out.
Resolving both issues has been difficult.
Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to keep the interest rates low on student loans, but cannot agree how to pay the $6-billion cost. The highway bill is tangled in a Republican feud between those who want to limit funds and those who are willing to keep transportation programs running.
Perhaps one thing both sides agree on: It’s time to get to work