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Obama warns of congressional inaction on student loan bill

With a July 1 rate increase on education loans approaching, President Obama told students here on Thursday that it is Congress’s job to move swiftly to prevent the rise, even as Republicans in Washington accused him of ignoring their most recent proposals and refusing to negotiate.

Speaking at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Obama delivered a new broadside against Congress for not passing key pieces of his job creation plan and warned of the consequences of congressional inaction on the student loan issue: an increase of $1,000 on the average federally subsidized Stafford loan for more than 7 million people. He urged students to call, e-mail and tweet lawmakers to force action.

“How many people can afford to pay an extra $1,000 when you’re a student, just because Congress can’t get its act together?” Obama said. “This is a no-brainer. . . . Get it done.”

As Obama spoke, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) in Washington offered a new proposal to break the impasse on the matter, an attempt to shut down Republican complaints that Democrats have failed to advance new ideas in response to a GOP offer sent a week ago.

Leaders in both parties insist that they want to find a way to prevent subsidized Stafford loan rates from jumping from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent next month. But they’ve been unable to agree on how to pay for the $6 billion cost of extending the lowered rates for another year.

Republicans have accused Obama of preferring to hold rallies at colleges to mobilize the youth vote rather than find a way to break the gridlock. They had urged him to skip the Las Vegas event and return to Washington to work out a resolution to the dispute.

“Mr. President, open your mail: The solution is right in front of you,” chided Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), referring to the latest Republican offer, included in a letter from top Republicans last week.

Reid’s proposal would use two items already agreed to in the Senate’s one-year highway funding bill, which passed on a bipartisan vote of 74 to 22. That legislation remains stuck in the GOP-held House, but Reid said the items would generate enough revenue to cover both measures.

Reid proposed a change in how companies calculate pension liabilities, raising money as businesses take fewer tax deductions for their contributions. He also suggested increasing the premiums that businesses pay for federal pension insurance.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said that Republicans will review Reid’s new proposal and that there may be room for talks now that “Democrats are willing to take this issue seriously, and not just use students as props.”

In Las Vegas, Obama did not address the specifics of the debate. Instead, he blamed congressional dysfunction broadly for the lack of a deal.

And in a key swing state hit hard by unemployment and the collapse of the housing market, Obama blamed Republicans in Congress for standing in the way of ideas that could improve the economy.

“My message to Congress is: Let’s get to work,” he said.

Obama stopped in Las Vegas on the way back from a fundraising trip to California.

During a two-day swing through San Francisco and Los Angeles, he raised an estimated $5.5 million at five fundraisers, the highlight of which was a 600-person gala for the LGBT Leadership Council at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening.

There, the president offered his first public embrace of gay supporters since endorsing same-sex marriage in a widely promoted television interview last month.

Gardner reported from California.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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