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Obama, Congress reenact battle over student loan rates

May 31, 2013|By Christi Parsons
  • President Obama speaks on student loans in the Rose Garden of the White House.
President Obama speaks on student loans in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama complained about the looming interest rate hike on student loans in a Rose Garden event Friday morning and urged Americans to call, write and tweet their Republican members of Congress to do something about it.

But on Capitol Hill, GOP leaders questioned why Obama doesn’t just ask Senate Democrats to take up the Republican rescue plan already passed by the House.

The two sides are quibbling over the details of how to avert the rise in interest rates on federally subsidized student loans, set to double to 6.8% in a month.

They’re also reenacting a battle that Obama won last summer after raising awareness – and concern – that the rates were about to go up. Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed to extend the lower rates but Obama still spent the remainder of the election year claiming credit for it.

This spring, Republicans got ahead of the issue and passed their own plan in the House to prevent the rates from doubling. The White House says that plan isn’t good enough because it would let the lending rates reset each year.

“I'm glad that they took action, but unfortunately their bill does not meet that test,” Obama told a crowd of students gathered in the garden outside the Oval Office. “It fails to lock in low rates for students next year. That's not smart. It eliminates safeguards for lower-income families. That's not fair.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky brushed off the president's remarks as a “campaign-style event.”

“Here’s one issue where the two parties can and should find quick agreement,” McConnell said. “Unfortunately, the president appears more interested in needlessly stoking partisan divisions in Washington than helping young Americans avoid a higher interest rate on their student loans.”

The two sides have until July 1 to figure it out. Without action by Congress, the interest rates on new loans will double after that date.

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