By Ramsey Cox
Lautenberg died Monday at the age of 89 from viral pneumonia. He was the last was the last World War II veteran serving in the U.S. Senate. Some of his signature legislative issues were gun control, G.I. benefits and chemical safety. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to speak at the funeral, which will be held in New York on Wednesday.
Reid also filed cloture on motions to proceed on two bills aimed at addressing a federal student loan rate increase this summer. If Congress doesn’t act by July, interest rates on student loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
The Senate will vote Thursday on whether to end debate on a motion to proceed to a bill introduced by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The Student Loan Affordability Act, S. 953, would freeze need-based student loan interest rates for two years while Congress works on a long-term solution.
Reed and Harkin would pay for their bill by ending three tax breaks. Specifically, it would limit the use of tax-deferred retirement accounts, restrict “earnings stripping” by expatriated entities and close an oil and gas industry tax break by treating oil from tar sands the same as other petroleum products.
The Senate will also vote on whether to proceed to a GOP alternative bill from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). S. 1003 would require that, for each academic year, all newly-issued Stafford, Graduate PLUS, and Parent PLUS loans be set to the U.S. Treasury 10-year borrowing rate plus 3 percentage points. It would lower the interest rate for this coming school year for all newly issued federal student loans to a fixed rate of 4.75 percent, based on the May 15 auction rate of 1.75 percent.
The House passed a similar bill last month, which Reid said was unacceptable.
Under the House GOP's Smarter Solutions for Students Act, federal student loan rates would equal the rate on the 10-year Treasury note plus 2.5 percent. The rate would be variable, and would reset each year, although students could package all their loans into a fixed-rate loan after graduation. But the GOP bill also caps the rate at 8.5 percent for most students.
Reid also filed a cloture motion to end debate on the five-year farm bill. That vote will also take place Thursday.