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 Reed (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 Boehner (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 Boehner joined House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (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 Duncan 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 Alexander (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.”