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GOP-led House votes to keep rate low on student loans, as Obama balks

The White House says Obama will veto the House bill on student loans. It prefers a Senate measure that also helps debt-crushed students, but that covers the cost by closing a tax loophole benefiting the wealthy. 

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Heritage Action, for its part, urged a “no” vote because the bill approached the president’s health-reform law in the wrong way.

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“The proper approach to Obamacare is to repeal the entire law,” the group wrote in its alert to lawmakers. “Congress should not use Obamacare as a ‘slush fund’ to pay for temporary extensions.”

Still, Republican leaders saw the student loan vote as a way to turn the tables on Mr. Obama and Democrats, who had put the spotlight on the issue during the past week. Obama traveled to the three battleground states of North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa, delivering campaign-style speeches that urged Congress to keep the lower loan rate. His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, soon signaled his approval for extending the low interest rate, which caught some House Republicans, who had initially criticized the proposal, short.

Friday's vote, however, put Republicans on the “aye” side of keeping rates low on student loans, and it put most Democrats on the "nay" side.

“It’s a simple as this: Republicans are acting to help college students, and the president is now getting in the way,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

Both sides argue that their opponent is engaged in some form of hypocrisy. Republicans say Democrats have already offered up the health-care fund as a way to pay for other priorities, such as the payroll tax cut.
 
 Democrats, for their part, insist that Republicans already refused to extend low student loan rates when they voted en masse on March 29 for the budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin. That budget plan assumed that student loan rates would rise in July. “Make no mistake ... our Republican colleagues haven’t changed their minds about this,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, the Budget Committee’s ranking Democrat, on the House Floor Friday. “They have changed their tactics.”

In the end, the bill knitted together enough Republicans with a melange of Democrats, many of whom voted against Obama’s health-care reform bill, to get it across the goal line. But some lawmakers are losing patience with Congress's recent penchant for adopting only short-term fixes – Congress will have to decide how to handle higher student loan rates again next year.

“We’ve got to get away from band-aid approaches,” said Rep. Allen West (R) of Florida, before Friday's vote. “We’re taking a Kleenex and wiping the nose, we’re not treating the flu.”

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