Ignoring a veto threat, the House approved a Republican-backed plan Friday to keep subsidized student-loan interest rates lower for another year by paying for the extension with roughly $6 billion from a preventive-care fund established by President Obama’s health-care overhaul law.
About 7 million borrowers could see interest rates on student loans jump from 3.4 to 6.8 percent when the current rates expire July 1. Democrats and Republicans agree that the low rates should be extended for another year, but they disagree over how to pay for the extension — setting off another election-year fight over an otherwise non-controversial issue as lawmakers go home this weekend for a week-long recess and Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, continue campaigning across the country.
Before the vote, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) struck back angrily at claims by Democrats that the GOP plan to pay for the extension is another assault on women’s rights and the health-care law.
“Why do people insist that we have to have a political fight on something where there is no fight?” Boehner said, at times pounding a lectern for emphasis. “There is absolutely no fight. People want to politicize this because it’s a political year. But, my God, do we have to fight about everything? And now we’re going to have a fight over women’s health. Give me a break.”
Republican lawmakers cheered as Boehner continued, “This is the latest plank in the so-called war on women, entirely created by my colleagues across the aisle for political gain.”
Obama pushed Congress to quickly extend the low rates this week during campaign-style appearances at college campuses in key battleground states. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, also said this week that he backs extending the lower rates.
House lawmakers voted 215 to 195. Thirteen Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the bill; 30 GOP lawmakers voted against it.
Officials at the White House said Obama would veto the GOP plan because it is “a politically motivated proposal” that needlessly taps the Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for the extension.
Congressional Democrats agreed. “This bill goes in the wrong direction trying to do the right thing,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said Friday.
The GOP plan differs substantially from a Senate plan that would pay for the extension by imposing new payroll taxes on some businesses with three or fewer shareholders — so-called S corporations. But the Democrat-controlled Senate won’t vote on its plan until after it returns May 8, and the debate likely will continue right until up until the July deadline.
Anticipating such a fight, Senate Democrats accused Republicans of protecting the wealthy over needy college students. “This is a clear definition of priorities between the parties,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) told reporters Thursday.