Boehner under pressure from all sides ahead of student-loan vote

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his conference are under pressure from all sides ahead of a politically charged vote Friday aimed at winning over student voters.

The vote expected this afternoon is part of a war for young voters that broke out this week between the Republicans and the White House, which is desperate to keep a constituency critical to President Obama’s 2008 victory firmly in his camp this November.

From the right, the conservative Club for Growth is putting the squeeze on Boehner. 

It has warned it will put a black mark on any member who votes in favor of the Boehner-backed bill to extend low interest rates on student loans. The influential group argues the government has no place in the student loan business.

On the left, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is whipping her caucus against the bill, ensuring Boehner won’t get much help from Democrats in the vote.

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The president also issued a veto threat on Friday morning that raises the political pressure on both sides. Obama and Democrats oppose the GOP plan to pay for extending the low interest rates by raiding a preventative care fund created by the healthcare law for $12 billion. 

With Democrats railing against it, Boehner needs to hold together most of his conference to pass the student loan bill, and the Club for Growth's opposition could help stall the legislation if enough conservatives balk at passing it.

Both parties are seeking any edge they can get ahead of a presidential election this fall that is expected to be razor tight. Fights for control of the Senate and the House are also at the top of lawmakers’ minds, particularly after Boehner’s surprising statement this week that there is a one-in-three chance Republicans could lose their House majority.

Republican have blasted Obama all week for manufacturing a fight over the student loans to win a political edge, and they cast his veto threat under that light. They noted that Obama in his budget proposed cutting the healthcare fund Republicans would use to pay for the cost of extending the student loan interest rates.

“The president is so desperate to fake a fight that he’s willing to veto a bill to help students over a slush fund that he advocated cutting in his own budget. It’s a simple as this: Republicans are acting to help college students and the president is now getting in the way,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner.

The White House said Boehner and Republicans were refusing to find “common ground” by using the healthcare fund to pay for the lower interest rates.

The White House statement also made an appeal to female voters, another constituency vital to Obama that the president’s campaign has worked to place more firmly on his side and against presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"Women, in particular, will benefit from this Prevention Fund, which would provide for hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast and cervical cancer," the statement said. "This is a politically-motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing America's college students deserves.”

The Club for Growth’s entry into the debate adds new uncertainties to the vote.

"The federal government should not be in the business of distorting the market for student loans," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. "Decades of government intervention have driven tuition costs to record highs, and continuing these subsidies is simply bad policy. We urge members of Congress to oppose them." 

The group said it would include the vote in its legislative scorecard, which it uses to decide which Republicans it should challenge in primaries. The Club has been effective at rallying opposition to legislation, most recently taking on the proposed reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

The bill under consideration in the House would extend subsidies on federal student loans, keeping the interest rate at 3.4 percent rather than 6.8.