Harkin: GOP wants student loan hike to blame Obama

“As I stand here today, I see no signs from Republicans that they want to change their course,” the Iowa Democrat added. “Now, if by sunset today, they want to redeem themselves, fine.”

Harkin’s comments at the Wednesday news conference took place the same day students are pressing lawmakers to come up with an extension of student loan rates.
The current interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans, 3.4 percent, is scheduled to rise to 6.8 percent on July 1, and the White House has said continuing the current rates is a top priority.

GOP lawmakers have also said they want a year-long extension, with the House having already passed a bill that covers the roughly $6 billion cost by eliminating a public health prevention fund from the Democratic healthcare overhaul.

But Harkin and Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain Overnight Defense: Trump aide's comment mocking McCain sparks outrage | Haspel gets another 'no' vote | Pompeo floats North Korea aid for denuclearization MORE (D-R.I.) also declared at Wednesday’s news conference that Republicans weren’t always so interested in a deal on student loans. Senate Republicans also blocked a Democratic proposal that would have paid for an extension by forcing some wealthier taxpayers to pay higher payroll taxes.

The two senators also noted that House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRepublicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Freedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan MORE (R-Ohio) told his conference last week that the end-of-the month deadline was basically phony, according to a GOP aide, and that rates could be extended retroactively.

Those comments came the same day BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRepublicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Freedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan MORE joined House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election Scalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement MORE (R-Va.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Republicans see some daylight in midterm polling Exclusive: Bannon says Rosenstein could be fired 'very shortly' MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in sending their offer to the White House.

Republicans suggest that, in the aftermath of that proposal, they have they the political upper hand on the issue. Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanObama Education secretary: Boycotting schools would 'shock the nation' into changing gun laws Biden says 'enough is enough' after Santa Fe school shooting Obama Education secretary: Pull children out of schools until gun laws change MORE and other prominent Democrats declined to comment specifically on the GOP proposals on Tuesday, and GOP aides have said they have not received a response from the White House on the offer.

“The president was using the student loan issue for a political football, and it bounced back in his face,” Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senate panel to consider ban on prescription drug 'gag clauses' Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters on Tuesday.

One of the ideas from the four GOP leaders would require federal workers to contribute more to their pension funds, the sort of proposal that has drawn howls from Democrats in the past.

The other proposal has limits on subsidies received by student loan recipients and changes to a tax on Medicaid providers.

But while other Democrats have been not gone into much detail on those ideas, Harkin and Reed were not shy in saying they fell short.

Harkin also said that congressional Republicans should be dealing with Democratic lawmakers instead of the Obama administration, and that the GOP proposal cherry-picked ideas from the White House budget.

“You’re taking money from low-income families, poor people, to help keep the interest rates low for poor students,” Harkin said. “That doesn’t make much sense.”

Still, Reed said he also thought it was more a question of when and not if lawmakers would agree to extend the rates, even as he also downplayed the most recent Republican offer.

“You look at this sort of hastily contrived letter sent to the president — that’s not yet the kind of meaningful dialogue we have to have,” Reed said. “Maybe I’m just hopeful we can do that before July 1.”