Boehner urges Obama to 'compel' Senate Dems to act on student loans

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday urged President Obama to “compel” Senate Democrats to pass a House student loan bill that Republicans say reflects the president’s wishes.

In a letter to Obama, the Speaker sought to drive a wedge between the president and the Democratic-led Senate, positioning his own conservative conference as more closely allied with the White House on how to prevent an increase in student loan rates.

“Without your intervention, Senate Democrats are going to double interest rates for millions of college students,” Boehner wrote.

At times, the tone of the missive bordered on the sarcastic, as the Speaker pointed out that the House was the only chamber to have acted to prevent a rate increase before the deadline at the end of the month.

“I must assume that you are as frustrated as I am by the actions of Senate Democrats,” Boehner wrote. “On an issue you have made a top priority, it is astonishing that your fellow Democrats have been so openly hostile to your proposal.

“I, of course, respect that you are dealing with a variety of important issues, at home and abroad,” the Speaker added. “But, still, I must ask: what are you and the members of your administration doing to get Senate Democrats to pass a market-based interest rate before the upcoming deadline?”

The White House on Thursday said that President Obama had "repeatedly" called on Congress to act to prevent loan rates from increasing.

"While we’re glad House Republicans are paying attention to this looming problem this time around, the plan they passed doesn’t solve it. In fact, a typical freshman could actually pay more under their plan than if Congress did nothing at all," White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said.

The White House issued a veto threat on the House-passed bill, saying it was not the same as Obama’s plan and would increase loan rates for low- and middle-income students. It also criticized measures aimed at reducing the deficit. A spokesman said last week that conversations are ongoing between the administration and members of both parties in the Senate.

“We would like to see something move through the Senate that abides by some of the principles that we've laid out,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “Our plan does that, obviously. But there may be some other suggestions, and we're open to some other ideas.”

Boehner said the House-passed bill was close enough to the president’s vision for a long-term student loan fix.

“The House passed a plan that mirrors your own. The differences between the House plan and yours are minor,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, they cannot be resolved if Senate Democrats refuse to even accept our shared approach and the need for a long-term solution.”

This story was updated at 2:10 p.m.

Justin Sink contributed