Reid offers flexibility on student loan votes if Republicans drop filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday morning said he is open to giving Republicans a chance to vote on their own proposal to keep student loan interest rates low for another year, if doing so would convince Republicans to end a filibuster against the Democratic bill.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a noon vote to proceed to S. 2343, the Stop Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act. But Republicans have indicated they will filibuster the bill, which would prevent it from getting the 60 votes needed to proceed.

That threat prompted Reid to offer the chance to allow for consideration of a GOP alternative on the Senate floor.

"If Republicans would stop filibustering our legislation … if they want some other way to pay for it, let's take look at it," Reid said. "Let them offer that. The stakes in this debate are too high to let partisanship get in the way."

Before those comments, Republicans had complained that Senate Democrats were not offering any chance to amend the Democratic bill at all. But Reid's floor remarks alone do not appear to be enough to sway Republicans. A senior Republican aide noted that Reid did not formally schedule a vote on a Republican alternative, but did say talks on how to proceed are "ongoing."

Some agreement is possible, as Republicans have said they support an extension of the 3.4 percent interest rate for students with federally subsidized student loans. But Republicans clearly oppose the Democratic proposal to pay the $6 billion cost of keeping the interest rate low; Reid's bill would subject more income from some high-income earners to the payroll tax.

House Republicans have already approved a bill that pays for the extension by cutting a preventive care health fund that was created in 2010, and Senate Republicans have introduced a companion measure in the Senate.

While Reid said he is open to a vote on the GOP proposal, he criticized Republicans for favoring the wealthy over students.

"Our plan creates no new taxes. It would simply stop wealthy Americans from avoiding the taxes they already owe," Reid said.

"Yet Republicans appear poised to filibuster this worthy measure," he added. "They're sending a clear message that they'd rather protect wealthy tax dodgers — that's what they are — than help promising students achieve their dreams of higher education."

Reid also rejected the GOP proposal to cut the healthcare fund, by saying it has already been cut.

"We have already cut that plan to the bare bones," Reid said. "Any fluff that was in that program is gone."

Republicans have seized on the fact that Democrats themselves have already cut the fund to pay for other measures, and that President Obama has proposed further cuts to the fund, which Republicans have criticized as "slush fund" that has been used for lobbying.

— This story was updated at 10:49 a.m.

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