The Washington Post

Student loans: A rerun of the payroll tax cut fight?

Jake Sherman reports on the House GOP’s latest response in the student loan fight. With Republicans claiming they are for extending the low interest rates, and that they only disagree with the White House and Dems over how to pay for it, House GOPers will introduce their own bill extending the rates, and pay for it out of Obamacare’s “slush fund”:

House Republicans will announce by the end of this week their own bill to keep student loan rates from doubling, several Republican leadership sources said.

The GOP will offset its cost with money from what they dub a “slush fund” in the Democrats 2010 health care law...

“Democrats put in place a law that would double interest rates for student loans this year. Republicans and Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill have been working on this issue, and everyone knows we will fix it before the deadline in a few months,” a GOP leadership aide said. “This week, the president is travelling the country on the taxpayer’s dime campaigning and trying to invent a fight where it doesn’t exist. To end this charade, and eliminate the excuse for his taxpayer-funded campaign tour, the House is going to move more quickly to fix the problem.”

Which Obamacare “slush fund” is being referred to here? Speaking to reporters this afternoon, John Boehner clarified that the “slush fund” in question is the law’s $17 billion account that the Health and Human Services Secretary can use to fund prevention and public health programs.

The “slush fund” term is not new. In March of last year, Boehner decried the law’s “series of slush funds.”

When Politifact asked for substantiation of the claim, Boehner’s office said that this was a reference to the fact that the law empowers HHS to spend money on a whole range of programs, such as the aforementioned prevention and public health programs, or grants to states to set up health insurance exchanges or to build school-based health centers.

Politifact concluded that Congress retains the power to oversee the law’s implementation, and dubbed the “slush fund” claim a “Pants on Fire” lie.

That aside, this latest turn in the fight is yet another reminder that this is shaping up very much like the battle over the payroll tax cut extension. Just as in that fight, Republicans say they don’t object to extending the low student loan rates; they only differ with Dems over how to pay for it. (The Paul Ryan budget that recently passed the House, however, did not extend the rates.) Just as in that fight, Republicans are now floating various ways to pay for the extension (as in the Obamacare “slush fund”) that seem likely to get shot down by Dems.

Meanwhile, Dems continue to believe the politics of this fight are on their side, and continue to argue that Republicans are taking refuge behind the dispute over the pay-for to mask their ideological hostility to government help for student debt. And Dems are getting a bit of help in that regard, too. As I noted this morning, GOP Rep. Todd Akin recently opined that programs such as federally funded student loans have left America with “the equivalent of the stage three cancer of socialism.”

In his speech today, Obama lampooned this quote and held it up as an emblem of GOP extremism, noting: “Just when you think you heard it all in Washington, somebody comes up with a new way to go off the deep end.”

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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